02 February 2023

Review: The Death of John Lacey by Ben Hobson

The Death of John Lacey by Ben Hobson book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Snake Island by Ben Hobson was a ripper read in August 2019 and it made it onto my Top 5 Books of 2019 list. I had the pleasure of interviewing the author as well, which you can check out here.

Ben Hobson is back with his new book called The Death of John Lacey which will always be special to me, because guess what? I'm mentioned in the praise section with an excerpt from my Snake Island review! It's so exciting when this happens and I predict I'll never tire of the thrill. What an honour! Now, onto the book.

The Death of John Lacey is set in the Ballarat goldfields of colonial Australia and Hobson cleverly avoids any flack for the inherent racism some of his characters possess. The author is clear at the beginning that his writing is true to the period but understands readers might find the views of his characters abhorrent and unacceptable by our contemporary standards. It's a shame authors need to stipulate that they don't share the views of their characters, but better safe than sorry.

The book is set in 1847, 1853 and 1870 but begins in 1847 with Ernst James Montague and later his brother Joe Montague. These early pages reminded me of the last half of Devotion by Hannah Kent, although on reflection, I guess that shouldn't come as a shock. Both books were written by Australian authors and set in 1800s Australia for a start. Furthermore, the interactions between the new settlers and the indigenous population were interesting, engaging and sensitively handled and the landscape was incredibly evocative in both novels.

I would happily have dwelt here in Ernst's entire life story and I was deeply invested in the life he was living with his father as they tried to eke out a living from the land. Meanwhile, Ernst's mother was bitterly homesick and longed to return to her homeland. Unfortunately things don't go to plan but that's where we leave them.
We're then introduced to the Lacey brothers in 1853, but I couldn't make space for them as I was left wondering what happened to Ernst and Joe. We join them again later, but having been robbed of the aftermath of their earlier circumstances the connection to them as characters was lost.

When we meet him, John Lacey - of the title - is a formidable man on a power trip and not a character the reader is likely to care too much about. John has a brother Gray and while we spend some time in their story, I was indifferent to their plight.

The Death of John Lacey is divided into seven parts, during which time we get a glimpse of the lives of brothers Ernst and Joe Montague, brothers Gray and John Lacey and Father Gilbert Delaney. While Hobson brings all of the plot threads together in the conclusion, I found myself not caring too much about any of the characters; their demise or their salvation. But perhaps that was the point. It was a deplorable time in history and Hobson has given us some pretty heartless characters to despise.

John Lacey isn't an important or compelling character in the novel and his death didn't seem to be the focus of the book. As a result, I found myself puzzling over the title and wondering at its significance other than providing a logical starting and finish point for the overall narrative.

Historical fiction is my favourite genre, although I'll admit reading very few books set in colonial Australia. This is just a personal reading preference and I wouldn't have picked this up if it wasn't for the fact that Hobson absolutely blew me away with Snake Island. The Death of John Lacey is completely different and props to the author for his ability to write two completely different books and deploy a different writing style for each. I know it's a minor point, but I don't enjoy it when authors, editors or publishers decide to do away with punctuation for dialogue, but such is the case here and it definitely diminished my reading pleasure.

Covering themes of race, faith, greed, violence, ambition, law and order and the value of human life, there is much here to get stuck into. The writing is distinctly Australian, the landscape evocative and there were some great character insights, like this one from Father Gilbert:
"Gilbert understood that all death was like this, having presided over so many. There was always great wailing and sorrow, but in the end, after the dying had been done, there was pragmatism, and great relief in the work it required. Even so, he could not help but picture Joe's face as each nail was struck and the thought of Christ crucified on the cross and how those nails might sink into flesh." Page 242
The Death of John Lacey by Ben Hobson is recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction set in the goldfields of Australia, fans of Ned Kelly or bushranger fiction and readers who love a good western but won't get snooty when there is no dialogue punctuation. Ben Hobson is clearly an Aussie talent to watch and I can't wait to see what he turns his pen to next. Guaranteed I'll be there to be an early reader.

My Rating:


30 January 2023

Review: The Phantom of the Opera Companion

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion book cover

I absolutely love everything about the musical production The Phantom of the Opera: the gothic setting; the music; the operas within an opera and of course the cleverly constructed and often overlapping lyrics are just sublime. Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion contains the original screenplay and reading it enhanced my already existing appreciation of the musical.
“Some of you may recall the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera: a mystery never fully explained.” Page 62
I recently attended Opera Australia’s production of The Phantom of the Opera at the State Theatre in Melbourne four times and it continues to raise the hair on the back of my neck and give me goosebumps every, single, time.

I've always struggled to describe the sheer majesty of the title song and the "duuuuuun, dun dun dun dun dunnnnnn!" that reverberates into your chest. In this companion edition I'm pleased to have finally found a description from the screenplay that sums it up in just three words:
"The porters whip off the canvas. The auctioneer switches on the chandelier by igniting a huge battery. There is an enormous flash and the thunderous organ overture begins." Page 62
It's the thunderous organ overture which never fails to move me or ignite my senses. Reading the screenplay in full for the first time provided a new angle from which to appreciate Andrew Lloyd Webber's brilliance. The clever word play and poetic rhythm of the lyrics deliver tongue twisters one moment while other times the lines seem to trip off your tongue in sheer delight. Take the following example from Christine. Even if you don't know the circumstances or accompanying tune, the words are lyrical and seem to dance together in a way that makes my brain feel like warm, sticky caramel:
"Twisted every way, what answer can I give? Am I to risk my life, to win the chance to live? Can I betray the man who once inspired my voice? Do I become his prey? Do I have any choice? He kills without a thought, he murders all that's good... I know I can't refuse, and yet, I wish I could. Oh God - if I agree, what horrors wait for me in this - the Phantom's Opera...?" Page 125
I'm well aware that my enjoyment of this book is inexplicably connected to my love of the opera itself, but it's as though my mind enjoys picking over the lyrics and melodies and revisiting their uniqueness over and over. It then seeks to deliver snippets to me throughout the day in 100 little ear worms and sudden and tuneful outbursts without provocation. Perhaps the Angel of Music haunts me just as it does Christine...

Often the characters' lines will overlap and I was able to read all of the lyrics in the screenplay for the first time here. Sung and read together, they create a swirling sphere of linguistic pleasure that seems to envelope my brain in a sweet fog of words and music that ignites my soul and won't let go.

The musical is multi layered (like the movie Inception) with plays within the play and even makes fun of industry cliches and stereotypes in the caricature of Carlotta and the swooning lovesick and overly protective leading man Raol. There's also a clear sense of humour throughout, one of my favourites being "and what is it that I've meant to have wrote, written?" The stage production in Melbourne was exquisite and the scenery was mesmerisingly clever with performers and the set continuously transforming and defying any attempt to understand how it all works. The interactions between Andre and Firmin are absolute highlights for me, and I loved reading their 'notes sequence'.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion is a book I'll never part with and I'm so glad I now have my own ready reference to all of the lyrics. The lyric I'm trying to learn by heart at the moment is the following from Masquerade:
"Flash of mauve ... Splash of puce... Fool and king ... Ghoul and goose ... Green and black ... Queen and priest ... Trace of rouge ... Face of beast ... Faces ........ Eye of gold ... Thigh of blue ... True is false ... Who is who? ... Curl of lip ... Swirl of gown ... Ace of hearts ... Face of Clown." Page 111
Were you able to read it through without stumbling? Are you also a Phantom tragic? I'd love to know. It could be another decade before I have the chance to “close my eyes and let my spirit start to soar” once again, but now that I have the screenplay - in addition to the Original London Cast recording from 1987 - I'll be able to re-visit the Music of the Night any time.

Highly recommended!

My Rating:


27 January 2023

WIN 1 of 2 Signed Copies of Confluence by Gemma Chilton

Carpe Librum Confluence giveaway image

Intro

Gemma Chilton is an Australian journalist and editor based in southern Tasmania and she's giving Carpe Librum readers the chance to win 1 of 2 signed copies of her debut novel Confluence. Each winner will receive a print copy of Confluence valued at $24.99AUD signed by the author along with a personal inscription of their choice.

Gemma's writing has appeared in numerous publications including Australian Geographic and Tracks magazines. Confluence is a gritty and raw contemporary mystery and the giveaway is open to AUS & NZ entrants only. Click here or enter below before midnight AEST Sunday 5 February 2023 and good luck!

Blurb

Twenty years ago, 10-year-old Liam's father left to go fishing in the early morning dark and never came home. Now Liam is living an unhappy life in Sydney, having an affair with the married woman upstairs, haunted by the ghosts of his childhood. When he gets a call about his mother's health, he quits his dead-end job and returns to his childhood home near the ocean - ostensibly to help her, but really to wrestle with his own memories and his demons. Weaving between the past and present, Confluence is a gritty and raw contemporary mystery about time, memory, love, loss and intergenerational trauma, through the lens of one family’s tragedy.

Giveaway






20 January 2023

Review: The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell

The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

I know it's early days yet, but it's just possible that The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell has gone straight from being one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2023, to being one of my favourite reads of the entire year. I absolutely adored this!

Set at the Mercury Theatre in Victorian London, Miss Jennifer Wilcox accepts a job offer from Mrs Dyer, the wife of the Mercury's owner. Fallen on hard times - the cause of which is revealed later - Jennifer must provide for her family and despite being brought low by her circumstances, eagerly accepts the position of dresser. Jennifer will need to make and mend all of the costumes, style hair and organise the accessories for the leading actress at the Mercury.

Unable to refuse and eternally grateful for the position of dresser to Lilith Erikson, Jennifer soon learns there's more to the situation. Mrs Dyer explains that her husband has been bewitched by the woman, and Jennifer is to keep a close eye on her. The reader is thrust straight into the social politics of the theatre, and additional meaning and nuance is communicated in the different plays the characters stage throughout this historical fiction masterpiece.

Reading The Whispering Muse put me in mind of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert but I suspect that's only because I haven't read too many novels set in a theatre. The books are set in different countries and eras - 1940s New York and Victorian London - however the leading lady there (Celia) was just as awful as Lilith. In fact, my favourite quote from City of Girls works perfectly for Jennifer and Lilith too!

You see, Lilith Erikson is a vain, ambitious and arrogant woman, intent on attaining recognition for her prowess on the stage at any cost. And I really mean ANY cost and our protagonist is soon fed up with her behaviour and seeming obsession with a cursed pocket watch.

Looking over at Lilith at a gathering, Jennifer observes:
"She would have been arresting in her fashionable black evening gown, were it not for her sour expression. She looked like she'd sucked on a lemon. Her discomfort cheered me more than the champagne." Page 64
The Whispering Muse is being promoted as a gripping tale of obsession, superstition and ambition, set against the atmospheric backdrop of Victorian London and the description is spot on!

Enriching my reading experience was the fact that I was also reading Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion. At the time of writing, I've attended the show in the State Theatre in Melbourne a total of 4 times, with my final attendance last night! This allowed me to enter a theatre environment and watch the cast and goings on with fresh eyes. What must it be like back stage, what are the relationships between the actors, what really happens in the dressing rooms and costume wardrobes?

I'll be reviewing it soon, but the Companion also describes the set design, history of the show and the creation of the music, making it a perfect yet unintended and equally gothic companion to The Whispering Muse.

This is an atmospheric novel about class, ambition, loyalty, envy, power and obsession and I was truly gripped as I flipped the pages to witness the slow destruction of certain characters. Jennifer experiences conflicting loyalties between Mrs Dyer and Lilith and her determination to avoid becoming collateral damage in their war made for compelling reading.

In addition to the drama unfolding between the characters, the theatre setting, the backstory of the pocket watch and suspicious and deadly accidents at the Mercury, the little nods to the era (young Bertie with a bad foot pasting together matchboxes to earn his keep and his older brother working in a hat factory) were the icing on this creepy Victorian cake.

The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell is a gothic triumph!

My Rating:


16 January 2023

2023 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

I was sorry to learn that the Aussie Author Reading Challenge came to a close at the end of 2022 after 13 years. I'd like to thank Jo from Booklover Book Reviews for her time and generosity in managing this challenge year after year. It has been a consistent touch point for many Australian bloggers and authors and we're definitely going to miss it Jo!

This year is going to be light on for reading challenges. I'm aiming to read 75 books again in 2023 and will be actively participating in the following challenges throughout the year, so wish me luck!

2023 Non Fiction Reader Challenge

I'm signing up for the Non Fiction 2023 Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out. I'm going for the Nonfiction Nibbler level and will need to read and review 6 books from any 6 listed categories. 
Non Fiction 2023 Challenge logo

The categories are:
1. History
2. Memoir/Biography
3. Crime & punishment
4. Science 
5. Health
6. Travel
7. Food
8. Social Media
9. Sport
10. Relationships
11. The Arts
12. Published in 2023

2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Fiction 2023 Challenge 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.

Have you set any reading goals for 2023? Do you enjoy reading challenges or do they create too much pressure? I'd love to know.


14 January 2023

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden book cover

Set in a bitterly cold winter in a small medieval village in Russia, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is full of Russian fairytales and folktales. The villagers have been making offerings to the household spirits for generations and are wary of what dwells in the dense forests.

However the arrival of a new priest from Moscow changes the household completely as magic is essentially outlawed and the Christian Priest Konstantin is intent on purging devils and witches from the town.

The villagers are forced to choose between their Christian beliefs and salvation or their mystic traditions of old and certain damnation.

Unfortunately for our protagonist Vasya, Konstantin is frighteningly effective:
"His voice was like thunder, yet he placed each syllable like Dunya setting stitches. Under his touch, the words came alive. His voice was deep as rivers in spring. He spoke to them of life and death, of God and of sin. He spoke of things they did not know, of devils and torments and temptation. He called it up before their eyes so that they saw themselves submitting to the judgment of God, and saw themselves damned and flung down.
As he chanted, Konstantin pulled the crowd to him until they echoed his words in a daze of fascinated terror. He drove them on and on with the supple lash of his voice until their answering voices broke and they listened like children frightened during a thunderstorm. Just as they were on the verge of panic - or rapture - his voice gentled." Page 149
Vasya knows the harm that will come if the old traditions aren't upheld and risks her life to save her family despite their distrust of her abilities. Vasya's connection with horses was one of my favourite elements of the book, and reminded me of Poison Study by Maria V Snyder.

According to her father Pyotr, Vasya is destined for either marriage or a convent and she vehemently wants neither. Convinced the villagers are in trouble, Vasya will do anything for agency over her life:
"I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man's servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me. Please." Page 367
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is a coming of age story and a tribute to storytelling and fairytale. I really enjoy a novel that blends historical fiction in a tale inspired by folkore so if you enjoy books by Kate Forsyth or Naomi Novik, you'll love this.

It's difficult to believe this is the author's debut with descriptions like this one:
"The winter half of the house boasted huge ovens and small, high windows. A perpetual smoke trickled from its chimneys, and at the first hard freeze, Pyotr fitted its window-frames with slabs of ice, to block the cold but let in the light. Now firelight from his wife's room threw a flickering bar of gold onto the snow." Page 13
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is the first in the Winternight trilogy, and I look forward to reading The Girl In The Tower next.

My Rating:


11 January 2023

Review: Copywrong to Copywriter by Tait Ischia

Copywrong to Copywriter by Tait Ischia book cover

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

I'm a blogger, reviewer, editor, proofreader, sole trader and sometimes lone ranger, so you could say I'm the target audience for Copywrong to Copywriter - A Practical Guide to Copywriting for Small Businesses, Small Organisations, Sole Traders, and Lone Rangers by Tait Ischia.

My success over the years has been directly proportional to the work I put in and the standards I set for myself. Like most, I'm always striving to learn more and improve my work and in reading Copywrong to Copywriter I was hoping to learn some new tricks, re-visit old ideas and see if content writing has changed much over the years.
"When someone first realises they need a copywriter, they might have any number of services in mind. They may be looking for web writing, journalism, scriptwriting, product naming, headlines, ad campaigns, concept development, user personas, information architecture, content audits, copy editing, proofreading or complex content strategies.
They might also require intricate knowledge about esoteric subjects, a sophisticated understanding of highly technical industries or years of experience in marketing, advertising, brand strategy or public relations." Page 13
The author goes on to say: "while the foundations of copywriting are simple, they quickly give rise to many complexities." Page 13

If you're expecting or hoping this book will delve into the above services and explain what they are and how they vary, you won't find it in this slim offering. At less than 100 pages, this is a very brief look at copywriting and instead offers an insight into setting a strategy, finding the right voice, identifying your audience and some basic grammar rules. I'm certain that the author could have written a 500 page manual on copywriting that explored each of the services mentioned above in addition to the complexities they give rise to which would no doubt make a thoroughly informative read. (Which I'm totally down for by the way).

Having completed a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, Associate Diploma in Management, Diploma of Business and Certificate in Professional Writing, this overview was old territory for me. I've been reviewing and blogging here at Carpe Librum for almost 18 years now and while I've moved beyond the basics, this short refresher was still worth my time.

Copywrong to Copywriter by Tait Ischia is best suited to those embarking on a career or hobby that involves communicating information to an audience. It might be a blog, an Instagram or Etsy account, intranet or company website. At the very least, this is an easy to follow introduction to copywriting by an accomplished Australian author that will provide a solid foundation that may lead to a deeper exploration down the track.

My Rating:


10 January 2023

Top 5 Books of 2022

In 2022 I read a total of 75 books and as always, it's difficult to curate a Top 5 list. Over the course of the year, a total of 19 books were 5 star reads for me in a nice healthy mix of genres. I'm proud to announce there are three Australian authors in my Top 5 list which covers a range of genres, including poetry, crime and crime thriller, science fiction and middle grade.

Here are my Top 5 Books of 2022 in the order I read them:

1. The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem by Amanda Gorman

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman book cover
I was incredibly moved by Amanda Gorman's address at President Biden's Inauguration on 20 January 2021. Gorman was the youngest presidential inaugural poet in US history and she made an impression that reverberated around the world.

I read a stunning hardback copy of The Hill We Climb exactly a year to the day of the Inauguration event and was still moved by her words. Gorman eloquently delivers a message of promise and hope and The Hill We Climb is an inspiring read.

If you haven't heard, watched or read The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman, I heartily recommend you do. It'll be the best 6 mins or 27 pages you'll ever experience.

2. Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson book cover
This was an immediate favourite! In a surprising opening, our narrator - aptly named Earnest - breaks the fourth wall to inform us he's a truth teller. He promises to tell the truth about what happened at his family reunion and insists he won't be an unreliable narrator; encouraging the reader to hold him to account.

Ernie is a self-published writer who publishes how-to books for readers learning to write a crime novel. Naturally he reads a lot of crime novels himself, and when the book opens Ernie is on his way to a family reunion in the Australian high country where things are tense and he's on the outer.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson is refreshingly unique meta fiction of the very best kind, with brilliant plotting that left this reader impressed and recommending this widely.

3. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir book cover
Project Hail Mary
is a science fiction space thriller and turned out to be a triumphant return to form for Andy Weir and I loved it! With elements similar to those in The Martian, our main character Ryland Grace finds himself alone on a spaceship and part of an impossible mission.

Further enhancing my reading enjoyment of this stellar novel was the fact my husband read this before me, enabling us to share the plot developments and favourite dialogue moments which we're still doing many months later! (Sad, amaze!)

I'll always think of Project Hail Mary as Rocky's book and he's now one of my favourite characters of all time.

4. Runt by Craig Silvey

Runt by Craig Silvey book cover
This was a sheer delight to read and is aimed at his youngest reading audience yet. Annie Shearer is eleven years old and lives in a small country town called Upson Downs. Her parents run a sheep farm and Annie is never without her leather tool belt, causing some kids to think she's a little odd. I warmed to Annie instantly and cheered when she made a friend in the stray dog of undetermined pedigree, Runt.

Scavenging from bins, Runt was all alone in the world until he met Annie. Together they share a unique bond and Annie enters them both into an agility course at the local show.

Every chapter book needs a villain and Silvey gives us two: the Collector who lives on the hill and buys up properties and a fellow competitor in the world of canine agility courses, Fergus Fink.

With illustrations by Sara Acton, Runt by Australian author Craig Silvey is brimming with little life lessons and subtle morals along the way creating an uplifting, heartwarming and comforting read for all ages. I'm especially looking forward to hearing how my young nephew enjoys it later this year.

5. Headcase by Jack Heath

Headcase by Jack Heath book cover
Headcase
by Jack Heath is a crime thriller with a refreshing difference and it delivered on all of my bloody hopes and dark expectations. Starring my favourite fictional cannibal Timothy Blake, this is the fourth instalment of the series which shows no sign of slowing down.

Blake has teamed up with CIA handler Zara who is a force to be reckoned with. Blake finds himself in therapy (hence the Headcase reference), yet he remains a charismatic anti-hero.

Headcase is an entertaining and finely crafted bloody mess with kick arse female characters, clever plots, skilful subterfuge, electrifying tension and tantalising riddles at the beginning of each chapter.

Recommended for fans of crime thrillers, I eagerly gave the first two books in the series to my nephew for Christmas and can't wait to hear how he gets on with Blake and Thistle. (Also super proud of the mention in the praise section for Hunter).
________________________________________________________________________________

Special mention to The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The number of references that have come up since I finished reading this have made it the classic that keeps on giving and I'm so glad I finally made time to read it. I wonder which classic will be the stand out in 2023...

What was your favourite book in 2022? Have you read any of these or plan to?

Carpe Librum!


06 January 2023

Review: Just One Thing by Dr Michael Mosley

Just One Thing - How Simple Changes Can Transform Your Life by Dr Michael Mosley book cover

Dr Michael Mosley is very easy to listen to and I've watched quite a few of his documentaries, however surprisingly, this is my first time reading any of his - many - books. Just One Thing - How Simple Changes Can Transform Your Life presents simple and easy changes you can make daily that will have significantly positive impacts on your overall health and wellbeing.

Each 'thing' is grouped according to the time of day Dr Mosley recommends you try the activity, although naturally they can be done at any time. The categories are: Early Morning, Breakfast, Mid-Morning, Lunchtime, Afternoon and Evening.

There are 30 'things', and some of my favourites were: Sing, Stand on One Leg, Exercise Less But More Often, Eccentric Exercise, Take a Nap, Stand Up, Dance, Learn A New Skill and of course Read!

I was surprised to read about the benefits of eating beetroot (who knew) and enjoyed learning that the temperature decrease that happens after a warm bath mimics the body's natural drop in core temperature prior to sleep. This is why Doctors always recommend a hot bath 90 minutes before bed to aid sleep.

I've decided the just one thing I'll try and do more of this year is Stand Up. When we sit for prolonged periods, many of our body's functions go into sleep mode, including our metabolism! I think we all recognise that a sedentary lifestyle and sitting for prolonged periods is terrible for our health.
"Emerging evidence suggests that unless you are doing 40 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise every single day, you cannot undo the damage that sitting causes. And even worse, if you sit for long periods each day, you could be decreasing the benefits of any exercise you do." Chapter entitled Stand Up
Instead of harping on the negatives, Dr Mosley highlights the benefits of standing for a few minutes at least once every hour. I find it quite easy at night time to watch two episodes of a favourite show back to back without moving on the couch, but since I started standing more often and interrupting this period of slothing and relaxing, I have noticed an improvement. The author points out that standing up helps us maintain muscle strength, bone density and blood sugar levels and while I'll never go so far as to work at a standing desk, I am able to make small improvements and changes.

Just One Thing contains 30 bite sized topics which are very easy to consume. I recommend listening to this in small doses and coming back later to revisit any specific chapters that take your fancy or require a quick refresher.

Any time is a good time to begin a new habit or learn more about the body, but December / January seems - to me at least - to be the ultimate time of year for this type of book. One of my favourite quotes at the moment is "Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits" from Atomic Habits by James Cleary, and trying any of these 'things' from Just One Thing by Dr Michael Mosley will improve your health and wellbeing. 

My Rating:


04 January 2023

Review: I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka

I Will Always Write Back - How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda and Liz Welch book cover

I still remember the joy of having pen pals as a teenager, and the premise of I Will Always Write Back - How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda and Liz Welch appealed immediately.

In 1997, Caitlin Alifirenka was in her seventh-grade English class when she was asked to choose a place from a list of countries for a pen pal program the school was embarking on. Whilst other class mates chose countries like Germany and France, Caitlin wanted something different. Living in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, 12 year old Caitlin decided to choose the last country on the list, Zimbabwe. Although she had travelled outside the USA, Caitlin didn't know much about Africa and took great care when deciding how to begin her letter.

A few months later, Martin Ganda was a top student in a very poor part of Zimbabwe when his teacher entered the room, excitedly announcing the class had received pen pal letters from America. There were 10 letters and 50 students and it was immediately apparent many students would miss out. Luckily for Martin, his high scores in a recent test meant he was in Group One, and each high achieving student in the group received a pen pal letter.

In I Will Always Write Back, we learn about Caitlin and Martin in alternate first person POV as well as through the letters they exchange and I enjoyed seeing their friendship blossom. While other pen pal friendships soon petered out after a few letters, Caitlin and Martin remained pen pals for years, despite the oftentimes prohibitive cost of postage for Martin.

Their relationship begins to change both of their lives for the better and I enjoyed following each of their accounts through the years. I did have to take a break for a few weeks as I found myself struggling with the humungous economic and demographic gap between them and growing nervous about what would happen to Martin.

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka is a real feel good book that will hopefully inspire you to be more generous with your time - and money - and be aware of your own unique privilege.

Caitlin's family deserve a standing ovation for their support of Martin and his family, and I found myself in deep admiration for Caitlin's Mum's ceaseless efforts to seek a scholarship for Martin. Talk about above and beyond, wow!

If you need a story to inspire you or lift your spirits - don't they call that Up Lit now? - then this is for you. Special thanks to my friend closer to home, Diana, for lending me this book. She and I enjoy exchanging snail mail and she knew I'd love this as much as she did.

My Rating:


01 January 2023

Historical Fiction Challenge 2022 Completed

Happy New Year! Historical fiction remained one of my favourite genres last year and I enjoyed participating in the Historical Fiction Challenge 2022 hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader.

I had to read 10 historical fiction books to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the challenge.

Here's what I read: 
2022 Historical Fiction Challenge logo
10. The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt

Additional books I read for the challenge:
11. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell
12. Dawnlands by Philippa Gregory
13. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
14. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (reviewing soon)

I read some splendid historical fiction novels last year and I'm looking forward to signing up again in 2023. 

Anyone planning to read some historical fiction in 2023? I'm hanging out to read The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell and it may just be my first historical fiction read for 2023.

Carpe Librum!