29 September 2023

Celebrating 2M Page Views!

Carpe Librum image celebrating 2 Million Views

Today I'm celebrating my biggest Carpe Librum milestone yet! (Drum roll)

I've just reached 2 Million Page Views!

In 2021 I reached 1.5M views and was ecstatic to continue enjoying an average of 15,000 views per month since then. That's a lot of bookworms!

In 2025 I'll be celebrating my 20 Year Blogiversary, and will have to do something special to mark the occasion. Do you have any bookish themed suggestions on a fun way to celebrate? Let me know in the comments below.

In the meantime, thanks to all of my subscribers and readers, many of you have been with me since the very start, while others have stuck around after entering a giveaway, or pop back in from time to time to see what I've been reading. If you're reading this, it means we share a love of books and the written word, and I appreciate that while you're reading my words here, you're not reading your book.

So thank you and happy reading.

Carpe Librum!

22 September 2023

Review: Don't Hang Up by Benjamin Stevenson

Don't Hang Up by Benjamin Stevenson audiobook cover

Don't Hang Up by Benjamin Stevenson is an Audible Original available for free with my membership at the moment. Coming in at just over 3 hours in duration, this is a fast-paced Australian domestic thriller and I loved it! Usually I'm unable to concentrate on fiction in audiobook format, but I took the chance given this was written by Australian writer and comedian Benjamin Stevenson, author of Greenlight, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone and more.

In Don't Hang Up, Adam Turner is a radio host assigned to the overnight shift after a career limiting move several years ago. One night an anonymous caller breaks the monotony and phones in with a threat. If Adam hangs up the phone, the caller will murder a kidnapped woman live on air.

I was immediately engaged by the tension, twists and excellent narration by Luke Arnold and Sibylla Budd, and my attention was held until the very last words; which were a clever touch by the author by the way!

Benjamin Stevenson is the author of one my favourite books last year, and Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone made it onto my Top 5 Books of 2022 list.

Thankfully we haven't had to wait too long for a sequel, and the next in the Ernest Cunningham series is released next month. It's called Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect and it's a locked room murder mystery set on a train. Sounds fun and I'll be picking it up to read next.

Don't Hang Up by Benjamin Stevenson was a perfect primer, and I'm looking forward to enjoying more work from this talented Aussie author in future.

Highly recommended!

My Rating:

20 September 2023

Review: Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby book cover

I totally fell in love with the creative process behind the embroidered cover design for Miss Austen by Gill Hornby after watching this video created by Chloe Giordano.

I've been stitching - mostly cross stitch - on and off for years and Miss Austen was a complete cover buy. I hardly ever pre-order books, but went all out to pre-order this Waterstones signed hardback edition, with dust jacket showing the reverse of the embroidered fabric (so clever), sprayed edges and stunning endpapers. You can see a flip through of the book here.

Chloe Giordano went on to design and stitch the embroidered cover for Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby and I really admire the publisher for seeking a different design style and process for these historical fiction novels.

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby is a novel of the Austen sisters, focussing on Cassandra Austen. Being unfamiliar with the members of the Austen family and in-laws, the handy family list at the beginning of the novel was immensely helpful and I constantly needed to flip back to refer to it.
"And she decided that other families must be one of life's most unfathomable mysteries. It was no use sitting as an outsider and even trying to fathom them. One could have no idea of what it must be like to be in there, on the inside. She would share that thought later in her letter to Jane." Page 69
The primary thrust of the novel is discovering why Cassandra Austen burned so many of her sister Jane Austen's letters, thus depriving future readers and scholars from reading her words. The dialogue is witty and enjoyable, and despite only having read one book by Jane Austen, felt authentic to her writing style.
"Half of Caroline's story was plainly ridiculous. The girl had always had a strong imagination, as well as a talent for embroidery, and was employing both quite liberally here." Page 161
'Well, what a lovely confection of nothing at all that was, my dear,' she began... 'Most charming, indeed; so charming I almost wish it had happened.' Page 161
The bond between Jane and Cassandra ran deep, with both seeming to sacrifice their happiness and future prospects for one another. The lack of female agency, the bonds of family and the relationships between women formed the base of this historical fiction novel:
"Now, here, in this vicarage, Cassandra had found another; most unexpected, excellent woman. She had quite forgotten the feeling, that deep, joyful and satisfying feeling brought by good feminine companionship. What a blessing to enjoy it once more." Page 170
In reflecting on Jane's death, the author highlights the importance of inheritance and legacy, noting:
"... these are the things by which most of us are remembered, these small acts of love, the only evidence that we, too, once lived on this earth. The preserves in the larder, the stitch on the kneeler. The mark of the pen on the page." Page 20
Jane's temperament and moods were mentioned throughout Miss Austen, although I'm lacking any opinion as to how close to her true medical history the author was steering us. Having only read Pride and Prejudice, I felt somewhat ill prepared and poorly equipped to enjoy all of the subtleties and easter eggs no doubt on offer here in Miss Austen.

Fans familiar with the Austen canon or the author's life in any detail, will no doubt recognise plot points, locations (Godmersham Park, Chawton House), family members, engagements, marriages and deaths mentioned throughout, however these were unfortunately lost on me.

Not knowing how much of the narrative in Miss Austen is based on history and fact and how much was fictionalised, I wasn't able to enjoy the novel at the level it was intended. Instead, I chose to read Miss Austen as a stand-alone novel of sorts, knowing as I did so that I was missing many layers by being unfamiliar with the Austen canon. 

The constant moving of the family members was a surprise although I did enjoy Mrs Austen's dialogue, especially when it concerned her own health:
'My bowels feel much steadier now, thanks be to the Lord, after what was, as you of all people know, Cass, the most frightful evacuation. I think I shall like this apothecary. He has a good feel for my system.' Page 198
Love it! Miss Austen by Gill Hornby will be remembered by this reader for having one of the most attractive cover designs I've seen and was an enjoyable read.

My Rating:

18 September 2023

Review: The Book of the Raven by Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland

The Book of the Raven by Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland book cover

The Book of the Raven - Corvids in Art & Legend
by Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland is a beautiful collection of artwork, poetry and short chapters about corvids and ravens in art and legend.

Beginning with an introduction and first chapter written by Chris Skaife, Ravenmaster, HM Tower of London was a master stroke. You might remember I thoroughly enjoyed his memoir The Ravenmaster - My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London.

If you're not terribly knowledgeable about birds, corvids include crows, ravens, rooks and magpies; although technically not Australian magpies, due to a lack of nasal bristles.
"When ravens get together it's an unkindness, but get a bunch of crows together and it's murder..." Page 109
I enjoyed learning more about corvids and their appearance in art and literature across time, with some memorable mentions including: Charles Dickens and his beloved raven Grip; The Lord of the Rings; Edgar Allan Poe and his famous poem The Raven; Alfred Hitchcock; the curse of The Crow movie; of course the Brothers Grimm; and A Game of Thrones.
"It may come as a surprise, especially given the often fairly dark myths that surround them, that ravens are very playful creatures, having fun with their fellow birds or sometimes just amusing themselves." Page 79
I mean, who hasn't seen the footage of a raven sliding down a rooftop on a piece of plastic over and over?

While enjoying the gothic graphics and moody artworks included, I was frustrated many times trying to locate the applicable captions, concluding that many of the pages lack adequate credits. This is a real shame for those artists lucky enough to have their artworks included in this collection.
"Ravens have a long association with both war and death - they are carrion birds, often picking over the remains after battles had taken place. The Vikings considered a croaking raven outside a house to be a warning of the imminent death of its occupant." Page 98
The author goes on to explain that Viking raiders used ravens to help find land, inspiring the raven banner flown by Viking warlords. These banners remained in use long after the Vikings had departed and can be seen in two panels of the Bayeux Tapestry. Fascinating!

My reading highlight enjoying The Book of the Raven was without a doubt reading The Raven poem by Edgar Allan Poe aloud at home for my husband. Having only read it to myself in the past, I have renewed respect and appreciation for the rhythm of the language and complexity of the lines, in the same way I enjoy the lyrics of The Phantom of the Opera.

Presented in an A5 sized softcover, I dearly wish Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland were given more scope to expand this collection and delve deeper into the historical significance in the way author Michel Pastoureau was able to in Black - The History of a Color.

Conceived and designed by Angus Hyland and written by Caroline Roberts, The Book of the Raven - Corvids in Art & Legend was an enjoyable read and also the first book I've read from my 8 Books on my TBR with Birds on the Cover post, earlier this year.

If you'd like a sneak peak at the artwork inside, you can do so via the author's design studio website Pentagram. Enjoy!

My Rating:

15 September 2023

Review: The Boy Under the Table by Nicole Trope

The Boy Under the Table by Nicole Trope book cover

The Boy Under the Table
by Australian author Nicole Trope is about Tina, a homeless young girl living on the streets of Sydney's red light district, King's Cross. Tina's struggle to survive the Cross is contrasted with the grief and worry in outback New South Wales, as farmers Doug and Sarah desperately seek the return of their young son Lachlan, who disappeared at Sydney's Royal Easter Show.

Tina's day-to-day life on the streets as a sex worker and living a sober yet meagre existence in a squat were shocking and compelling, thankfully with a ray of hope Tina will work through her grief and reclaim her life.

There were countless times the author could have taken a misstep in this narrative, resulting in some serious eye-rolling from this reader, but she didn't! In fact, I was actually waiting for a disappointing turn in the narrative, fully expecting Tina to do something unbelievable or for Lachlan to act contrary to his age or character, but again, it never happened.

Instead, I found myself worrying about the two characters during the day, and wondering what their futures held in the remaining pages. We're given multiple character perspectives, and the plot kept me engaged the entire time. I was relieved to find a satisfying ending filled with hope without once glossing over any of the trauma that had passed beforehand and the healing still ahead.

Ultimately The Boy Under the Table by Nicole Trope is a story of hope and courage and I couldn't help but be moved by it. Highly recommended for fans of Australian crime writing, or those seeking a refreshing take on the missing/kidnapped child trope in fiction.

For more, check out my review of Forgotten by Nicole Trope, a domestic thriller about a sleeping baby kidnapped from his car seat when his mother ducked into a shop to buy milk.

My Rating:

12 September 2023

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle book cover

I thoroughly enjoyed this young adult fantasy novel and it may even be a Top 5 contender for 2023. Published in 1968, The Last Unicorn by American author Peter S. Beagle has become a modern fantasy classic. Included in my copy of 501 Must-Read Books and voted by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Best Fantasy Books of all time, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is a new favourite and exceeded all of my hopes and expectations.

This quest novel features a unicorn who is worried she may be the last of her kind on earth. As she leaves the serenity and sanctuary of her wood to venture forth and find the truth, she meets fellow travellers along the way who join her in her quest.

While I'm generally not a fan of anthropomorphism (talking animals) in books, I have been known to make the odd exception (Watership Down by Richard Adams), and here it seemed natural and endearing.
'He ran,' the unicorn said. 'You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention.' Her voice was gentle, and without pity. 'Never run,' she said. 'Walk slowly, and pretend to be thinking of something else. Sing a song, say a poem, do your tricks, but walk slowly and she may not follow. Walk very slowly, magician.' Page 53
The unicorn isn't the only immortal or mythical creature in the novel, we also have magicians, curses, an evil King, a hero Prince and even a harpy!
"I am a hero. It is a trade, no more, like weaving or brewing, and like them it has its own tricks and knacks and small arts. There are ways of perceiving witches, and of knowing poison streams; there are certain weak spots that all dragons have, and certain riddles that hooded strangers tend to set you. But the true secret of being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock at the witch's door when she is away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story." Page 249
This quest novel was a real adventure and definitely gave me the feel-good fairytale vibes I was seeking when turning to The Brothers Grimm earlier this year. The writing also made me chuckle at times, with observations like this one in the face of immediate danger:
"The magician stood erect, menacing the attackers with demons, metamorphoses, paralyzing ailments, and secret judo holds. Molly picked up a rock." Page 130
As you can see, the author's writing is sublime and the descriptions are incredibly evocative and refreshing:
"So they journeyed together, following the fleeing darkness into a wind that tasted like nails." Page 105
Wow, such a punchy description! Reading and enjoying The Last Unicorn, I couldn't help wondering whether the book influenced Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro in the writing of his quest novel The Buried Giant. In my opinion, The Buried Giant falls well short of The Last Unicorn, but I couldn't help noticing some similarities between the two.

Rich in allegory, The Last Unicorn has aged exceptionally well, but I'll leave you with one last quote I especially enjoyed, and which reminded me a little of Harry Potter:
"An old man in a dark, spangled gown and a pointed, spangled hat was standing there, and no one could say surely that he had not been standing there in plain sight since they entered the throne room. His beard and brows were white, and the cast of his face was mild and wise, but his eyes were as hard as hailstones." Page 163
Having sold more than 6 million copies, I can definitely see why The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is so beloved by children and adults, and why it continues to find new readers this past half century.

If you'd like to discover the magic for yourself, you can read the Introduction by Patrick Rothfuss and the first chapter and a half here for FREE.

Highly recommended!

My Rating:

07 September 2023

Review: The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman

The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Mia Jacob was raised in a puritanical cult known as the Community in Massachusetts where contact with the outside world is non existent and books are forbidden. Selling produce from their farm in town, Mia sneaks into the local library and is met by a kind librarian who lets her borrow books, guessing she's from the nearby Community.

I read this during the time I was also watching the TV adaptation of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart based on the book by Holly Ringland, and saw so many connections. In particular, libraries providing a safe haven and refuge of sorts and the books inside opening doors to a new life, or helping the reader cope with their existing one.

The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman is a book of two halves, first, the tough life at the Community, and second Mia's love for The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. You don't need to have read the book to enjoy The Invisible Hour, and it isn't a retelling. I read and enjoyed The Scarlet Letter in 2008, yet Mia takes it to the next level and falls in love with the author, obsessively learning all about his life and even spending time at his grave.

In the second half of The Invisible Hour, Mia's love takes her back through the centuries to the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne, before he wrote The Scarlet Letter. I enjoyed Mia's dilemma about time travel, her observations, fears about changing the future and jeopardising the writing of the novel that changed her life. The heartbreak of love when measured against the harsh reality of the day, or the past, was also convincing.
"Nathaniel laughed at such nonsense, and he never told his friends about the curious things that happened to him, for it appeared that he was fated to have an appointment with the forces of magic. Twice he had seen ghosts, a matter he kept to himself." Page 132
The nature of love and the complications of time travel were foremost in my mind while reading this, as I was also watching the new season of Outlander based on the series by Diana Gabaldon. In that series similar questions arise, the grief and pull of separating years, the fear of altering the future and the desire of two people to be together at all costs.

The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman is a love letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne and a short and quick read. Hoffman's characters are an excellent example of the ways in which reading and stories can change your life and transport you elsewhere and on this, I heartily agree.

My Rating:

05 September 2023

Review: And Away by Bob Mortimer

And Away... by Bob Mortimer book cover

My path to this book began with an unsolicited copy of The Satsuma Complex by Bob Mortimer earlier this year. Unfamiliar with his work, I came across some very funny skits on Would I Lie To You? and decided to give his book a chance.

You'll remember I absolutely loved it, and having instantly warmed to the dynamic between Bob Mortimer and David Mitchell, went on to read Back Story by David Mitchell. I should have left well alone, but the re-runs in my head of Mortimer and Mitchell making each other - and me - laugh kept returning and I imagined they must be friends. I found myself wondering what it might be like to hang out with them and join in on the intellectually stimulating, outrageously funny and cleverly witty merriment. I wanted more!

And Away... is Bob Mortimer's autobiography, and it does what it says on the tin. This is Bob Mortimer's story, including his younger years living at home with his Mum with older brothers, school days, playing football, university days, starting out as a solicitor, first stand up, small gigs and a steadily growing career on stage and screen, despite finding out he's not a good actor.

Mortimer's sense of humour that had me chuckling along in The Satsuma Complex is also here, but reading about working on various radio shows, comedy gigs and TV shows was a little less interesting to me, and I should have expected this. Mortimer doesn't spend much time talking about Would I Lie To You? at all in this outing, which was a little disappointing (for me) but he does include a bunch of stories - a few of which aren't true - just to leave the reader guessing.

Mortimer is a qualified Solicitor with a Masters in Welfare Law, yet I was surprised to find out just how much of a regular, down to earth guy he is. The author seems to identify with the working classes, loves a beer and cigarette at the pub, hanging out with mates and being a couch potato in front of the TV. His love of food was another highlight, but does he really carry cured meat in his pocket at all times?

The author openly shares the health scare which led to open heart surgery, his struggle with depression and his discovery of the meditational nature of fishing. Fans of the show Gone Fishing featuring Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse will enjoy discovering how the show came to be and I really enjoyed this section, despite not being terribly interested in fishing.

The insightful reflections on friendship were the highlight of the autobiography for me, and I listed to the audiobook read by the author which I believe added to the enjoyment:
"For whatever reason, my friendships over the years have been based purely on the quest for laughter. This was different. Nature and silence had tricked me into talking to Paul about everything under the sun. The banks of the river Test had become my therapy couch. Two men talking and helping each other out. It's very refreshing if you've been starved of it." Chapter 23 Upwards and Onwards
After listening to David Mitchell's autobiography and now Bob Mortimer's, I can see these two comedians are from very different walks of life. Their ability to make comedic magic when they work together probably stems from their professionalism and talent, more than the deep friendship of the kind Mortimer shares with Paul. I had no business building the Mortimer/Mitchell bromance in my mind, and the crash down to earth was a rude awakening.

Needing a laugh and something light after reading true crime and historical fiction based on true crime recently, And Away... certainly delivered.

My Rating:

03 September 2023

Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper

Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper book cover

A quick check tells me Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper was published in 2008, added to my virtual TBR pile back in 2016, and it has taken me until now to finally get around to requesting it from the library. Thankfully books wait for us no matter how many years it takes, and the premise that caught my attention in 2016 still appeals today.

Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper is based on the true story of Anne Green who was hanged for committing the crime of infanticide, and later woke up on the dissecting table at Oxford University.

In 1650, and aged 22, Anne had been concealing her unwanted pregnancy when she went into labour early and gave birth in the privy to a stillborn baby. Anne hastily concealed the body, not wanting to lose her position as a domestic servant. The baby's body was later discovered, and after accusing Sir Thomas's grandson, Master Geoffrey of being the father, Sir Read abused his position as Justice of the Peace and ensured Anne was charged with murder - infanticide - and sentenced to hang.
'Infanticide is a cruel law which only applies to the lower classes,' Wilton continued. 'When was one of the aristocracy last hanged for such a crime? Can you tell me that?' Page 160
Life is often stranger than fiction, and Mary Hooper does a splendid job of taking us into the mind of Anne Green before the pregnancy, during the birth, her subsequent arrest, time in prison and right up to her hanging. The reader is even privy to Anne's thoughts as she waivers between life and death.

In bringing this true story to life, the author also gives us a look at the confusion and uncertainty when scholars preparing to dissect Anne's body in the name of science, notice her eye flicker and are able to detect a faint pulse. She was sentenced to hang, so is her revival a sign from God of her innocence? Or should justice prevail and the sentence carried out a second time?

When considering how best to 'help restore her to the world' a number of remedies are discussed, including:
'Cut pigeons in half and apply them to her feet?' Norreys suggested, but this being a method regarded as rather old-fashioned, all three doctors shook their heads. A powdered burned swallow and the dripping from a roast swan evoked similar responses. Page 183
The remedies discussed were amusing and Hooper confidently brings 17th century England to life. Here a character remarks on the fact it's so cold in Oxford that they can't make notes in the theatre room because the ink is frozen in the bottle.
"There's such a hard frost that the Thames has frozen over and hucksters' tents have been erected on it. The ice was so solid that a coach and six was driven right across it without so much as a creak being heard!" Page 45
I don't know why, but the fact that the Thames river regularly froze over - more than 20 times between 1400 and 1831 - is a favourite history factoid of mine and I love when it pops up in whatever I'm reading. The river was wider and slower then and artworks depicting the Frost Fairs really ignite the imagination.

Having recently finished reading The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes, I couldn't fail to notice the similarity between the protagonist's plight in this book with that of Harriet Monckton; also a true story. It would seem the lack of agency for young women with unwanted pregnancies in 1650 wasn't much improved for Harriet two centuries later in 1843.

Fortunately for Anne, she was eventually given a pardon and went on to marry and have 3 children before dying 9 years after her execution.

Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper is a young adult novel and a quick read that will appeal to fans of historical fiction.

My Rating:

01 September 2023

Review: Eartheater by Dolores Reyes

Eartheater by Dolores Reyes book cover

August was Women In Translation (WIT) month and this year marks the tenth year of the project designed to encourage more readers to pick up books written and translated by women. I don't always participate, but I was in the mood to pick up Eartheater by Dolores Reyes so this fit nicely into my reading schedule.

Eartheater is a Latin American novel set in a slum in modern-day Argentina. Our protagonist has a compulsion to eat earth, but when she does she often sees disturbing visions of people who are missing or have been murdered. Troubled by her gift and the violence against women she witnesses, she prefers to remain withdrawn, playing computer games and drinking beer. Meanwhile, news of her gift spreads and family members - desperately seeking answers about their loved ones - start leaving bottles of earth at her gate, in the hope she can help them.
"I knelt down ... and put the bottle next to the others for company. There were plenty of blue ones. No blue was the same and no earth tasted alike. No child, sibling, mother, or friend was missed like another. Side by side, they were like glimmering tombs. At first, I used to count them and arrange them tenderly, sometimes stroking one until it let me savor the earth inside it." Page 59
The thought of all of those bottles and the despairing loved ones who were desperately hoping she might be able to give them some answers immediately stressed me out. This expectation and pressure made me feel uneasy, and I wanted the character to bring the bottles in and start working through them systematically. Maybe teaming up with a policeman to do it in a neat and tidy 'crime-meets-magical-realism, told from a feminist perspective' kind of way.

But this isn't that book, or like the TV show Medium. Instead, Reyes successfully highlights the fact that having this ability doesn't automatically equip the receiver with the necessary life skills to overcome their individual circumstances and become a community hero. Life just isn't like that.

Translated to English from Spanish by Julia Sanches, Eartheater has a dark and haunting atmosphere and I enjoyed the note from the translator at the end of the novel. You can read the first 17 pages for free here.

My Rating: