30 October 2023

Bone Rites Winner Announced

Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley book cover

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway last week to win a signed copy of Bone Rites by Australian author Natalie Bayley. All entrants correctly guessed the name of Natalie's guest post A Wander Through the Wonderful World of the Edwardians and if you missed it, you can check it our here.

Back to the news at hand, drum roll please as I draw the winner.......

Congratulations Rowan!!

You've won a signed copy of Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley valued at $21.99AUD thanks to the author. You'll receive an email from me shortly and will have 7 days to provide your Australian postal address. The author will then sign and send your prize out to you directly, so I hope you enjoy!

28 October 2023

Review: This Mortal Coil by Andrew Doig

This Mortal Coil l - A History of Death by Andrew Doig book cover

Our health has changed dramatically over the centuries, and in This Mortal Coil - A History of Death by Andrew Doig, the author explores the main causes of death we face today (heart disease and cancer) and how they vary from the illnesses and diseases from the past.

Doig introduces us to the Bills of Mortality in Chapter 2, and tells us the lists started being kept in the 1590s as a method of recording and reporting how many people were dying from the plague each week. The list was later expanded to include all causes of death, some of which have held particular interest over the years. (You can check out the medicinal remedy for quinsy in my review of The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.)

Here are some of the choice examples of the causes of death recorded in a Bill of Mortality from 1664:

Affrighted = Frightened to death
Dropsy = Abnormal swelling of the body caused by the build-up of clear watery fluid. Often caused by kidney or heart disease
Falling sickness = epilepsy
Griping in the guts = sudden, sharp pain in your stomach or bowels.
Rising of the lights = a rather poetic name for coughing your lungs up.
Sweating sickness = Infectious and often fatal epidemic disease affecting England in the fifteenth century. Exactly what it was is a mystery

I borrowed a copy of This Mortal Coil from my library as well as listening along to the audiobook, as some of the chapters contain graphs and tables and while rather expertly narrated, I was still keen to examine the print version of the data.

After reading chapters about life expectancy in different countries and across time, genetic diseases, plague, famine, scurvy, and sorting out the difference between typhus and typhoid,* my most memorable fact from the book came from learning about cholera. I knew the story about John Snow and his map of the Broad Street Pump (which also came up while reading Maphead by Ken Jennings, which I'll be reviewing next), but I didn't know anything about the dreadful symptoms of this terrible illness.
"Faeces are normally brown, as they contain dead red blood cells. The bad smell is molecules containing sulphur. In contrast, the diarrhoea from cholera is white and very runny, resembling water that has been used to cook rice, and can also smell of fish. Stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting also occur, adding to fluid loss. As the dehydration takes hold, victims experience irritability, lethargy, sunken eyes, loss of saliva, dry and shrivelled skin, and (unsurprisingly) extreme thirst. Blood turns acidic, urine production stops, blood pressure falls and the heartbeat becomes erratic. Losing salts in the blood causes muscle cramps and shock, as blood pressure becomes dangerously low. Patients scream and thrash as their muscles spasm, before they collapse exhausted." Page 100-101
This sounds like like a horror movie! I once believed ebola was the worst way to die, as seeing/being someone bleeding from the eyeballs was surely the most unnatural and horrific sight. However, now I'm thinking cholera - also known as the blue death - has got to be one of the worst illnesses, and seeing white runny diarrhoea would chill you to the bone, wouldn't it?

This Mortal Coil is full of interesting facts from history while never being grim or dull, and to my point, Doig opened my eyes to an entirely new mania. I enjoy learning about tulip mania and the dancing mania, and I'm familiar with railway mania, but I was stunned to learn there was a period of canal mania in British history. The author tells us:
"The success of the Bridgewater Canal (which is still in use) helped trigger canal-building mania in Britain from 1770 to 1830, with more than 4,000 miles built. Canal mania was followed by railway mania from 1830. Rail passenger numbers jumped from 5.5 million in 1838 to 111 million in 1855." Page 147-148
Now that I reflect a little, I think canal mania was building in the TV series Gentleman Jack, wasn't it?

Published in 2022, This Mortal Coil by Andrew Doig is up to date with the inclusion of Covid and is highly recommended to readers with an interest in history, health, science, medicine and medical science discovery.

* Typhus is caused by bacteria spread by fleas and lice, and Typhoid is caused by Salmonella Typhi from contaminated water or food.

My Rating:

26 October 2023

Guest Post: A Wander Through the Weird & Wonderful World of the Edwardians

Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley book cover

Welcome to Australian author and new pen friend Natalie Bayley. As part of the blog tour for Bone Rites, Natalie is going to share some interesting facts about the Edwardian period. Stick around for the giveaway at the end, but for now, take us back in time Nat!

A Wander through the Weird & Wonderful World of the Edwardians

I chose to set my award-winning (ahem, I still love saying that) novel, Bone Rites, in the Edwardian and post-Edwardian period because I’m fascinated by that era. Writing historical fiction is like jumping in a time machine and living another life for a while. And while the so-called ‘golden era’ of 1901-1914 was followed by a horrifying war and a flu pandemic that killed an estimated 5% of the world’s population, it was a wild, experimental time of intense social revolution and technological invention.

Talking of inventions, if you’ve ever watched TV you’ve probably seen an episode of the phenomenally successful series, Downton Abbey. Writer Julian Fellowes took great pains to ensure the show was historically on point, and it certainly highlights Edwardian class divisions. While Lady Mary sips tea on the lawn and bitches about her sister, dozens of minions are rushing around behind the scenes, cooking, cleaning, carrying and generally co-ordinating her life of leisure. The show reveals how the working class below stairs were beginning to resent their servitude, yet the upper (literally – upstairs!) classes were also starting to question this feudal hangover. They recognised that their poorly paid ‘slaveys’ or ‘drudges’ had access to all the family’s darkest secrets. What ‘the butler saw’ was every morally dubious thing their employers did. And yet, without the advantage of our modern labour-saving devices, the owners of these huge houses depended on their servant help too much to prioritise privacy over maintaining centuries of privilege.

So, what do you do when your servants know all of your secrets? Just put on a cap and apron, slip below stairs and spy on them in return. Following the lead of their party-going king and queen, Edwardians loved putting on fancy dress and pretending to be someone else. For a while, it was quite the thing for society ladies to dress up as maids in order to infiltrate a friend’s house for a laugh. Perhaps this was inspired by the 1904 play, Lady Madcap, by Paul Rubens, in which an Earl’s rebellious daughter holds a ball at her father's castle without telling him and pretends to be her own maid. She has a great deal of fun confusing everyone, but I don’t think it was the ensuing chaos that made the play a success; it was the possibility of subverting those rigid class codes just by wearing the right clothes.
Natalie Bayley author pic

A few years later, there was a trend of holding servant-themed costume parties where guests were invited to dress up as servants (complete with a parlourmaid’s bib-apron or a footman’s knee breeches) and serve dinner to their hosts. I’m sure the real servants thought this was exceedingly droll (not). Think of George Bernard Shaw’s quintessentially Edwardian play, Pygmalion, (1912, later adapted as My Fair Lady) in which a cockney flower girl has a wash, a few elocution lessons, and a new frock, before convincing everyone she’s a duchess.

Inspired by this Edwardian enthusiasm for role play, my novel’s unlikely heroine, Lady Kathryn, spends some time pretending to be a maid in an aristocratic household. Avoiding spoilers, what she gets up to below stairs would make even the most sanguine Edwardian aristocrat faint clean away, but Kathryn’s experiences give her a great deal of insight into the self-abasement that lies behind her world of privilege.

The other aspect of Edwardian life I find fascinating is their enthusiasm for the cornucopia of drugs that were readily available back then. Like many other women during the war years, Kathryn gives a ‘war kit’ to a soldier heading to the front. These care packages, which could be bought over the counter at department stores like Harrods, consisted of packets of tea and sugar, hypodermic syringes, grains of morphia and vials of cocaine. Drugs we would now consider illegal and highly dangerous were as commonplace as aspirin in the Edwardian era.

Kathryn’s later interest in opiates was also far from unusual. The 1902 British Medical Journal critiques the prevalence of morphine use at society tea parties:
“A number of ladies meet about 4 o’clock every afternoon, tea is served, servants are sent out of the room, the door is locked, the guests bare their arms, and the hostess produces a small hypodermic syringe with which she administers an injection to each person in turn. If one injection is not sufficient to satisfy any particular guest, a second or even a third is given.”
That would explain how they managed to endure those bone-crushing corsets...

For more insights on the weird and wonderful Edwardians, I invite you to step into the strange world of Lady Kathryn Darkling in my novel, Bone Rites, published October 31st by Aurora Metro Books.


For your chance to WIN a signed copy of Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley, enter my international giveaway here

Carpe Librum!
Carpe Librum giveaway image for Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley

24 October 2023

Review: Everyone on this Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone on this Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson book cover

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Books Australia *

Ernie's back after the events in the last book (Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone) and following on from his subsequent publishing success, has been invited to attend a crime writer's festival held on The Ghan. This forms the setting for Everyone on this Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson and what you need to know from the outset is that this is meta fiction.

Ernest (Ernie) Cunningham regularly breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly. One of the ways he does this is by telling us up front that we can safely assume he survives the tour - given he's writing about it - but he also gives us a list of suspect names. He even specifies how many times the killer's name will be mentioned for those eager enough to count the occurrences. (Not me).

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson was one of my favourite books in 2022 and while it wasn't a debut for this talented Australian author, I still wondered whether it was a 'one off' quirky, refreshingly unique writing style and format unlikely to be successful a second time around. OMG, I'm here to tell you this man can write!
"I'm still learning about the book world and my place in it, but even I knew then that McTavish was the sourest tasting word in publishing - popular. It's the tautology of authorhood: apparently if you're good enough to be popular, you're too popular to be any good." Page 31 
Set on The Ghan (the train of the title), this is another brain teasing, mind stimulating laugh out loud slap to the face of a book and I couldn't get enough. Stevenson readily gives the reader clues the entire way, yet still manages to surprise us.

Full of insightful yet funny character observations - remember the author is also a comedian - Ernie's description of his Aunt Katherine was wild:
'Katherine is my late father's little sister. A wild youth had been transformed by a tragic accident into an uptight adulthood. She's a stickler for rules: her star sign may as well be School Principal. She barracks for the umpires, and is the type of person who says, with a completely straight face, "How could you forget? It's in the calendar."' Page 40
The writer's festival is attended by a cast of characters, including writers with varying degrees of publishing success, agents and fans, and I loved the competitive nature of their interactions and the pettiness, ambition, pride and egos on display.

On what to wear to the restaurant on the Ghan, Ern shares a theory of his with the reader:
"My theory is that the less wealthy you are, the better you tend to dress for expensive events - meals, the theatre - as your effort in dressing matches your effort in expenditure. A week's wage: better pop on a tie. One billable six-minute increment: I'll wear boardies to the opera, no worries." Page 107
Booklovers will relish the publishing jargon and observations from the characters like this one with regard to fiction titles:
"You know, you put the full name of the character in the title? Put a number next to it too, if you want to get real flashy. It's the trendy thing right now. The Eleven Orgasms of Deborah Winstock, that's the Erica Mathison; The Five Lives of Erin O'Leary; The Four Cousins of Barbara Who-Gives-A-Toss. They're everywhere." Page 211
Fans of Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone will note a similar methodology here, however I'd eagerly sign up for another 10 outings with Ernest, flaws and all, confident in the knowledge I'm in Stevenson's expert hands. This was such a wild ride and I enjoyed it all the more when my husband read it immediately after me.

Everyone on this Train is a Suspect
by Australian Benjamin Stevenson is another triumph and a strong contender for this year's Top 5 Books of 2023 list. Highly recommended!

Board the train here to read a FREE extract.

My Rating:

19 October 2023

Blog Tour and Giveaway for Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley

* Copy courtesy of the author *

Carpe Librum Giveaway image for Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley


Natalie Bayley is a talented UK born Australian author residing in Sydney and it's a pleasure to be part of the digital blog tour celebrating the release of Bone Rites.

To celebrate the book launch, I'm hosting a giveaway and will be sharing a guest post from the author later this month entitled A Wander through the Weird & Wonderful World of the Edwardians.

In the meantime, it's giveaway time!! For your chance to win a signed copy of Bone Rites, winner of the The Virginia Prize for Fiction, enter below.


"I collected the first bone when I was twelve. This fact was not mentioned in court... Such a tiny little bone, more like a tooth. I only kept it to keep him safe."
Holloway prison, 1925. Dr Kathryn Darkling, branded The Westminster Vampire by the press, has two weeks until she is hanged for a series of brutal murders. Facing death, she knows that time is running out to complete her mission. Will she find a way to escape her fate?

Will she be able to perform the special bone rites that will save her brother?

Bone Rites is a dark, literary tale of love, loss and one woman's obsessive fight for justice and redemption within a ruthless world.


Bone Rites is a dark historical fiction novel set in the Edwardian period, in London. Dr Kathryn Darkling's story alternates between her Holloway Prison jail cell in 1925, and the events that led her there, beginning in 1905 with an irreversible injury suffered by her brother.
Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley book cover

Kathryn is an easy character to warm to and the familial love she has for her younger brother powers the entire book. Pursuing an early interest in medicine, Kathryn struggles to succeed in a male dominated environment and takes measures to address them that had me clapping and cringing.

As Kathryn began to cross the lines of morality in the pursuit of her life's work, her sanity starts to shift and slide with the introduction of a supernatural influence after her service as a doctor in the war.

The research behind Bone Rites was seamlessly incorporated and the writing was polished, giving me great reading moments like this one: 
"My hand connects with her face with such force the resultant crack silences the room." Page 223
At the time of reading, I could almost hear the reverberations of that crack and flinched from the impact of 'that' slap. The narrative is convincingly gothic and dark and will appeal to readers of Stacey Halls, Jess Kidd and Laura Purcell; in particular The Corset by Laura Purcell.

Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley is about female agency, sibling love, forbidden love, the ravages of grief, the horrors of war, justice, redemption and ultimately hope. Enter below for your chance to win a signed copy!

My Rating:


This giveaway has now closed.

11 October 2023

Review: If I Was a Horse by Sophie Blackall

If I Was a Horse by Sophie Blackall book cover

* Copy thanks to Hachette Australia *

Sophie Blackall is back from her award winning picture book Farmhouse, with her new release If I Was a Horse.

You might remember Farmhouse was based on the true story of a derelict and neglected house the author discovered after purchasing a farm. Blackall was able to utilise a variety of different items from inside the original tumbledown house in her artwork, including: newspaper clippings, photographs, fabric and scraps of wallpaper. She used all of these different materials in the creation of a fictional family of 12 based on the people she learned used to live there.

If I Was a Horse by Sophie Blackall doesn't draw on history to tell the story, although the title is drawn from a comment her son made 10 years ago on a trip to Iceland:
"If I was a horse I would gallop all day."
The comment entered family lore and went on to inform the story, where the reader is asked to use their imagination to consider what it might be like to be a horse for a day.

The illustration style is warm and inviting with lots of details to enjoy as your eye takes in the scene on every page; the scratched up skateboard, brother's laptop and pink tiled bathroom immediately come to mind. The mixed media wasn't as easily identifiable although the cover design with glitter and spot UV will definitely appeal to readers.

If I Was a Horse by Sophie Blackall is a great children's book for young readers and I couldn't help but wonder if the horse's tail is in the shape of a letter 'S' for Sophie? I like to think so.

My Rating:

05 October 2023

4 Books About Sisters on my TBR

I had so much fun putting together and publishing my post 8 Books on My TBR with Birds on the Cover earlier in the year, I decided to do another one.

This time, I've recently noticed I'm a sucker for a dark story about sisters, but don't worry, I'm not getting any ideas about bumping mine off! I've enjoyed some great stories about sisters in the past, but have the following four books about sisters (and with sister in the title) on my virtual TBR pile to read in the future. What are they?

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Oyinkan Braithwaite

Published in 2018 and set in Nigeria, the title My Sister, the Serial Killer says it all for this one. Korede's sister Ayoola is a serial killer, but instead of going to the police, Korede helps her sister cover up her crimes and clear away the evidence of her murdered boyfriends.

I bet this is going to be tense!


Lucy Holland

An historical fiction novel set in the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, Sistersong is about King Cador's three daughters, Riva, Keyne and Sinne.

Published in 2021, and a re-telling of a murder ballad, I believe the narrative looks at the struggle between the old magic systems and an emerging Christianity.

My Sister Rosa
Justine Larbalestier

Published in 2016, My Sister Rosa has a brilliant premise... What if the most terrifying person you know is your ten-year-old sister?

In this young adult novel, Che Taylor is seventeen and believes his younger sister is a psychopath. Written by an Australian author, this sounds like it's going to be a nice and creepy read, reminiscent of The Good Son.

I also featured this book in my list of 8 Books on My TBR with Birds on the Cover.


Rosamund Lupton

Published in 2010, Sister by Rosamund Lupton is a crime thriller about two sisters.

Beatrice flies home to London when she hears her younger sister Tess is missing.

When looking into the circumstances surrounding her sister's disappearance, Beatrice discovers how little she knows about Tess's life in London.

Apparently the book includes text messages and emails between the sisters, so it sounds intriguing.

Do you have any books about sisters you'd like to recommend? Have you read any of these 4 sister-themed books? What should I read first? Let me know in the comments.

02 October 2023

Review: The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox

The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox book cover

I was in the mood for a gothic historical fiction novel set on the coast when I picked up The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox recently. It's 1846, and Gabriel Stone is looking for a sea change after the death of his wife when he moves to rural Pale Harbour in Maine and takes up the role of Minister. Pale Harbour locals believe reclusive widow Sophronia Carver is responsible for the death of her husband and have openly called her a witch.
"Now here was a woman who might have been the picture of widowhood in an illustrated encyclopedia. From her high-necked black dress to the tightly pulled-back hair to the disapproving pucker in her brow, she radiated severity. Though at about forty, she was younger than the white-haired and bent-backed old woman that he had been imagining." Page 42
Just as the Minister is surprised to find the widow to be an attractive woman in her 40s, she too was surprised to meet a strong and well-built Minister, not the withered and weak man of God she was expecting. I couldn't help but roll my eyes here, suspecting a romance to transpire. And it does.

The Widow of Pale Harbour is a slow burn narrative with increasing occult pranks designed to scare the widow, however the forbidden love trope did nothing for this reader.

It's clear early on (and in the blurb) the work of Edgar Allan Poe is important to our suspect, and having recently re-read The Raven poem last month, I enjoyed this unexpected cross-over connection:
"..familiar not just with the poem, but with how fantastically popular it had become. Fashionable families held dinner parties and read the poem aloud around the fire, students recited it in diction classes, and a number of magazines and newspapers had already run parodies of the spine-tingling composition." Page 93
Even with this Poe angle and the whodunnit mystery, there was way too much romance and not enough action for my liking. Admittedly, there is the hint of a threat in the leaving of occult poppets and charms, menacing notes and vitriol from the local villagers, but it didn't really light my fire. 

I have a copy of The Orphan of Cemetery Hill by Hester Fox on my virtual TBR, and I'm hoping I'll enjoy it more, without an overwhelming romance element driving the plot. Set in 1844, Tabby works with her adopted father as caretaker of a large cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts and has the gift of being able to speak with the dead. Now that sounds interesting!

My Rating: