30 May 2022

Review: CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie

CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie book cover

I walk past the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) in Melbourne almost every other day, and I never stop wondering what goes on in there. With the Coroner's Court of Victoria on the other side of the complex, there is usually a number of hearses, funeral home vehicles, ambulances and other nondescript vehicles coming and going from VIFM on any given day.

After the Bourke Street attack killed six people and injured 27 pedestrians in 2017, I learned that one of the VIFM staff members frequented the same (awesome) local day spa as I did. I purchased a candle in store for the staff member to say thank you from the community for the difficult work they do. Hearing the feedback later on that it 'made their day' was comforting, but I still wondered at the mental fortitude required to work in that field and perhaps the mental and emotional toll it presumably took to do so.

When I read the blurb for CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie, I thought this might be my chance to find out:
"CSI Told You Lies is a gripping account of the work of the forensic scientists on the frontline of Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations. They are part of the team at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), a state-of-the-art facility in Melbourne. VIFM is a world-renowned centre of forensic science, and its team members have led major recovery operations over the years, from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires to the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014." (From the blurb).
It sounded like this was going to be a unique opportunity to find out more about these silent heroes in our community and what they do at VIFM. Unfortunately, this isn't really that kind of book.

Meshel Laurie is an Australian comedian, radio host, author and true crime podcaster and I enjoyed her narration of CSI Told You Lies. Laurie has a genuine interest in true crime and a natural talent for interviewing subjects about their work as she interviewed forensic pathologists, homicide detectives, defence barristers and victims’ families for this book. She takes the reader back in time to tell us about the Flinders Street Extension where bodies were taken for identification and analysis. Various cases are mentioned (David Hookes, Nicole Patterson, Eurydice Dixon and more), and various staff members and experts (and their careers) are included, however I wasn't taken on the VIFM tour I'd hoped and expected to go on.

The end result was more like a discussion of cases and people, not unlike retired NSW Homicide Detective Gary Jubelin's podcast I Catch Killers where he talks shop with fellow detectives which makes for interesting listening. Just as I enjoyed I Catch Killers, I did enjoy CSI Told You Lies, but it wasn't what I was seeking.

On completion, I also became a little confused about the title, and the reference to CSI. This book wasn't structured to show the flaws and misconceptions created by the vast range of shows by the CSI media franchise to come out of the US. They always depict a likeable cast of characters fighting crime with science, but this wasn't a myth busting book at all. Rather, a look over Meshel Laurie's shoulder as she pursues her interest in true crime, and tries to seek meaning in it all in an effort to honour the victims.

Recommended for readers of Australian true crime, fans of true crime podcasts and those with an interest in forensic science.

My Rating:

27 May 2022

Friday Freebie and Review: Blobfish by Olaf Falafel

Blobfish by Olaf Falafel book cover

* Copy courtesy of Walker Books Australia *


It's been a while since I've reviewed a children's picture book, but I just couldn't resist Blobfish, just look at his cute little face!


A heartfelt and humorous adventure from the bottom of the sea and beyond, following one fish on an epic journey.

Deep, deep, deep under the sea … lives Blobfish! Blobfish loves telling jokes, although he has no one to share them with, so he sets off on an adventure to find a friend. But sometimes friends turn up in the most unexpected places, even at the bottom of the ocean. This heartfelt and humorous story gently introduces children to themes of friendship, belonging and the issue of plastics in our oceans.


Blobfish is a sad and lonely little fish who has no friends and sets out to find one. His journey is heartfelt and I was surprised when he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. There's an important message here about rubbish, plastic and the ever increasing problem of plastic polluting the ocean, but presented in a way that even 3yo readers can understand.

Written and illustrated by Olaf Falafel (a nom de plume) Blobfish is recommended for 3+ readers and will be released on 1 June 2022.

My Rating:
Carpe Librum giveaway image for Blobfish by Olaf Falafel


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

26 May 2022

Review: Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose by Alison Weir

Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose by Alison Weir book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose is my sixth book by Alison Weir, and astonishingly (or not) they've all been five star reads.... including this one!

Elizabeth of York was the first Tudor queen and was born in 1466. Thanks to reading a number of books by Philippa Gregory over the years - namely The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Lady of the Rivers - I was reasonably familiar with the Houses of Lancaster and York and of course the War of the Roses. Given the number of Richards, Elizabeths and Henrys of the period, I was grateful for this foundational knowledge and able to relax immediately into the story.

The novel begins in 1470, when Elizabeth is just 4 years old and takes the reader through to her death from childbed fever (or post partum infection) in 1503. It should be noted that Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose is a standalone historical fiction novel, and unconnected to her Six Tudor Queens series. In following her life, the novel does seem to take the same chronological structure as her Tudor Queens novels, and could easily be read alongside any of the novels I've linked in this review.

The reader gets a great sense of Elizabeth, and her portrayal by Jodie Comer in the historical drama miniseries The White Princess, in addition to Michelle Fairley's portrayal of Lady Margaret Beaufort, were both firmly in my mind as I was reading.
"I will be Queen of England! I care not whether I hang, burn or drown in the attempt, for otherwise my life is not worth living." Page 220
The novel covers the disappearance and potential murder of the two Princes in the Tower in 1483, a case from history that still fascinates historians today. The Princes were Elizabeth of York's younger brothers and I enjoyed exploring this topic in To The Tower Born by Robin Maxwell back in 2011. Alison Weir has her own take on Richard III and what transpired in the Tower of London, which is very different to Philippa Gregory's version of events. However, it should be said that a centuries old unsolved disappearance lends itself to multiple interpretations and I enjoyed Alison Weir's here.

The future King Henry VIII is one of many children born (yes, Elizabeth of York is the mother of Henry VIII) and we see him grow as a charming young boy at the periphery of this novel, only to lose his brother Arthur to the sweating sickness in 1502. When Elizabeth dies Henry is just 12 years old, so it was comforting to know what happens to him and his siblings long after the book concludes. No cliffhangers here!

As in her previous books, Weir's writing in Elizabeth of York was evocative and I managed to keep up with the various betrothals, alliances, rebellions, pretenders, usurpers, treasonous plots, royal progresses, betrayals and executions.

Researching in preparation for this review, I just learned that Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose is the first in a new series by Alison Weir called Tudor Rose. As I write this, there are a further two books planned and the series will be about a mother (Elizabeth of York), a son (Henry VIII) and a daughter (Mary I); a series spanning three generations. I can tell this is going to be an epic series and I'm eager to keep reading. Will the next one continue the 5 star streak? Let's see.

My Rating:

22 May 2022

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir book cover

I was nervous about reading this. On the one hand, I was an early reader of The Martian and it turned out to be one of my favourite reads that year (2014). Then there was Artemis, the most disappointing read of 2017. Weir's third book Project Hail Mary was either going to be a stellar return to his earlier form, or another blazing disappointment. I'm pleased, relieved and excited to report that Project Hail Mary is a triumphant return to form for Andy Weir and I loved it!

Further enhancing my reading enjoyment was the fact my husband read this before me, so I could enjoy sharing the plot developments and favourite dialogue moments which we're still doing now! (Sad, amaze!)

Project Hail Mary is a science fiction space thriller, with many elements similar to those in The Martian; our main character Ryland Grace finds himself alone on a spaceship and part of an impossible mission. The early stages of the novel contains an element of memory loss (I usually avoid the amnesia trope like the plague) however thankfully it doesn't last long.

There are plenty of problems on the ship and complications with the mission and Grace uses all of his knowledge and resources to navigate his way through them. We also get flashbacks to his time on Earth before the launch which reminded me a little of a Matthew Reilly novel.

Project Hail Mary was published a year ago now and if you plan to read it at some stage and don't want any spoilers then close this tab or email now.... because what I loved most about this book was..... the main character's interactions with another being. Yep, you read that right. I'll always think of Project Hail Mary as Rocky's book.

If you loved the movie Arrival, this is for you.

My Rating:

11 May 2022

Review: The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter book cover

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter sounds right up my alley. Dark and subversive versions of fairy tales and legends told in the gothic tradition? Sign me up! I was so confident I would fall in love with this collection of short stories, I used a Christmas gift voucher to source a stunning little hardback edition back in January 2019. Since then, it's been sitting on my shelves while I enjoyed the anticipation of an automatic 5 star read within my reach. Recently I decided I was in the mood for some short stories - which doesn't happen often - and it was finally time to enjoy the collection. Sadly, I was quite disappointed.

The writing is superb, there's no doubt about that. And I'll never look at a cat or a ham bone in the same way again after this description from the Puss-In-Boots story:
"I went about my ablutions, tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats, one leg stuck in the air like a ham bone; I choose to remain silent. Love? What has my rakish master, for whom I've jumped through the window of every brothel in the city, besides haunting the virginal back garden of the convent and god knows what other goatish errands, to do with the tender passion?" Page 114 Puss-In-Boots
Saving this quote to include in my review and re-reading it again now, I'm once again stunned that this wasn't a great reading experience. I'm going to be giving this collection 3 stars, but how is that even possible with writing like this?
"It is winter and cold weather. In this region of mountain and forest, there is now nothing for the wolves to eat. Goats and sheep are locked up in the byre, the deer departed for the remaining pasturage on the southern slopes - wolves grow lean and famished. There is so little flesh on them that you could count the starveling ribs through their pelts, if they gave you time before they pounced. Those slavering jaws; the lolling tongue; the rime of saliva on the grizzled chops - of all the teeming perils of the night and the forest, ghosts, hobgoblins, ogres that grill babies upon gridirons, witches that fatten their captives in cages for cannibal tables, the wolf is worst for he cannot listen to reason." Page 186 The Company of Wolves
As you can see, Carter's writing is thought provoking and often made me stop to reflect. That was certainly the case when reading the last story in the collection about a girl raised by wolves:
"Like the wild beasts, she lives without a future. She inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair." Page 202 Wolf-Alice
There's much to dissect in this relatively short collection, but I'm certain that many of the fairytale references went way over my head. Angela Carter died in 1992, so thankfully I don't have to worry that she'll ever see this review and disapprove of my meagre criticisms, but geez, how many hyphens and semi colons do you need? At one point I put the book down to Google 'angela carter semi colons' and was reassured to find I'm not the only reader who finds it a tad excessive.

I loved the writing style in The Bloody Chamber and even relished having to put the book down to expand my vocabulary by looking up a new-to-me word. However, I found the stories to be a little too obscure for my overall enjoyment. While reading this, I made a note that if I'd been studying it in a university setting, breaking it down and analysing the literary references cleverly contained within, I'd be writing a completely different review.

Read in isolation though, I enjoyed the language and the gothic undertones on every page, but overall, this collection never took me to the dizzying literary classic heights I had expected to reach.

My Rating:

06 May 2022

Review: The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters was such a joy to read. Expertly researched and wonderfully written, the book opens in Dorset in 1642 and finishes there seven years later in 1649. Those who know their history will recognise this period as the English Civil War that raged in England from 1642 - 1651 between the Royalists (who were for the King having absolute rule) and the Parliamentarians.

Jayne Swift of the title is an unmarried woman who uses her many skills as a physician to provide medical treatment to the wounded on both sides of the conflict. Remaining neutral throughout, despite coming from a seemingly Royalist family, it's impossible not to love Jayne. Her skill in providing medical treatment for all kinds of maladies, including battlefield surgery was remarkable.

In fact, Jayne reminded me of Lady Anne of Develish from The Last Hours by Minette Walters. I can't believe I read that almost 5 years ago in November 2017! Notwithstanding, that was set 300 years earlier and The Swift and the Harrier is a stand alone novel.

The Harrier referred to in the title is a person who crosses paths with Jayne a number of times over the years, but don't worry, this isn't a romance driven novel. There are other characters I warmed to throughout the book and I was rooting for their safety amongst the ever changing politics surrounding the civil war.

A personal reading highlight I'll take with me after reading The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters was the absolute pleasure in seeing praise from Theresa Smith (Theresa Smith Writes) and Ashleigh Meikle (The Book Muse) featured in the first few pages. They're both fantastic Australian book bloggers and I know how much of a thrill it is, so I hope they're both proud to be included in this fine book.

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters is highly recommended for fans of Philippa Gregory, Kate Mosse, C.J. Sansom or Ken Follett and you can read the first 19 pages for free on the publisher's website

My Rating: