Winners warmly announced

I’m pleased to announce the two winners of our Harlequin Books give-away! Anniepinkshoes and Carmel Corry have each won a copy of their choice of the books Fiona McCallum’s Wattle CreekBoomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe or Temptation, by Karen Ann Hopkins.

Thanks everyone for entering, and rest assured there will be a couple of more chances to win over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned! Plus July’s TBYL News: All Things Books... is out on Monday, and there will be a chance to win a great book from Picador. Subscribe here…

Annie and Carmel, just email me your details (postal address) to info@thatbookyoulike.com.au by end Wednesday, 4.07.12 and I’ll make arrangements for a copy to be sent to you! If the prize isn’t claimed, I will redraw on 5.07.12

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The Mistake; but whose?

It’s funny how sometimes, through no deliberate planning, my reading goes through ‘clusters’. Similar books find themselves back to back in my reading pile, by happy accident.

The last three books I’ve most recently read have been like this. Having this week finished The Mistake, by Wendy James; Before I Go To Sleep, by S.J. Watson; and My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson, I realised that whilst quite different in content, all three left me incredibly unsettled, making them hard to put down and their feeling hard to shake. There’s nothing quite like the sense of foreboding that a talented author can communicate through a well-told story.

I’ll review all three books in due course, but I’m going to start with The Mistake, by Wendy James (Penguin).

The general premise of this new Australian novel is spelt out pretty clearly from the outset:

“We all have secrets…

Jodie Garrow is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks when she falls pregnant. Scared, alone and desperate to make something of her life, she adopts out the baby illegally – and tells nobody.

Twenty-five years on, Jodie has built a new life and a new family. But when a chance meeting brings the adoption to the notice of the authorities, Jodie becomes caught in a nationwide police investigation, and the centre of a media witch hunt.

What happened to Jodie’s baby? And where is she now? The fallout from Jodie’s past puts her whole family under the microscope, and her husband and daughter are forced to re-examine everything they believed to be true.”

It’s Jodie’s story, but almost equally the story of her husband Angus and daughter Hannah. All three are scrutinised, criticised and all, in their own ways are found wanting. But interestingly, so are those that surround them and judge them as they face the greatest challenge of their lives. It is these elements of judgement, fault and blame that add a read depth to this book.

With obvious similarities to cases such the investigations into Lindy Chamberlain and Keli Lane, cases which were subjected to incredible hyper-vigilant media coverage and harsh public judgements, this story really drags into the light that which is the demonisation of women who have been accused of doing harm, often to children. Worryingly, these judgement can at times be based on little more than assumption, hearsay and prejudice.  Sometime they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but they are always heartbreaking.

This story really did have me wondering, reconsidering judgements I’d so easily made in the past.

On another level, The Mistake is an incredible study of anxiety, and it’s a sensation shared between character and reader:

“The panic had set in as he read the nurse’s letter, but had become so severe, so overwhelming, that he had only managed by a supreme act of will, to sit and listen to his wife’s account, her revised account, of the adoption. He had escaped as soon as he could, running from the room as if pursued by devils, and the symptoms had taken longer to subside than usual; it had been a full ten minutes – interminable, inescapable – before his heart stopped racing, his breathing returned to normal.”

This feeling of anxiety stayed with me throughout the novel, and took a little while after to shake completely.

Wendy James has very convincingly constructed a scenario by which a woman’s whole life looks to be on a tipping point – she stands to loose everything. Despite their many mistakes, this family is inherently likeable. They are at times frustrating, but their treatment by others is far more so.

The novel itself is well written. It’s original, it’s sense of place is fantastic, and although it took a little getting used to, the use of the third person made for a real ‘birds-eye-view’ story-telling experience.

This novel is not an entirely pleasant experience, but it’s an incredibly satisfying one. I’d recommend it, if for no other reason than that it will help you to look at rumour-mills, small towns and the media in a slight different light. It’s an interesting, challenging point of view, but an important one.


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The final instalment of the three part read-along of ‘My Hundred Lovers’ I’ll be posting my review of this book later in the week, but have a look over the comments from other bloggers, it’s really interesting.

All The Books I Can Read

Hello everyone and welcome to the third and final part of the discussion on My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson. How is everyone? It’s a terrible day here where I am, perfect for reading and hopefully for some dissecting of this book!

So in the third part of the book we learn a few little things that some of us had been wondering throughout. I’ll talk a little bit about this section and then at the end I’ll have a little bit about the book overall. As always, feel free to bring up your own points of discussion or issues that have resonated with you in any way.

  • What do you think of Deborah’s unusual friendship with the eccentric Horatia? Do you like Horatia?
  • Do you think Deborah was drawn to ‘the beautiful lover’ because of his “full sensuous mouth that bore a curious resemblance to my fathers”? (p177). Or…

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The TBYL Book Club is warm!

I woke up yesterday morning, proud as punch and happy as Larry.

Wednesday night’s TBYL Book Club Housewarming Party was a hit and lots and lots of fun. By all accounts everyone had a good time, and I think we’ve all had a chance to get to know each other and the club house a little bit better.

The evening flew by, the games were quick and punchy and everyone got into the spirit of the evening! Thanks so much to everyone who contributed, you made the evening a blast and our new home a very warm one.

Because the night went so fast, I thought it might be nice to give a run down on who won what…

The Lucky Door Prize was won by Patricia B. The prize was a copy of the perplexing Fall From Pride, by Karen Harper (Harlequin)

The winner of the Reading Corner Photo Challenge was Karen B. The prize was a copy of Dare Me, by Megan Abbott (Picador) The photos and descriptions that you guys shared where fabulous, thanks!

The winner of the Desert Island Book give-away was Kate B. Kate won a copy of The Beloved, by Annah Faulkner (Picador)

Tamela D. won the Would You Rather game, and she’ll be getting a copy of Summer at Willow Lake, by Susan Wiggs (Harlequin)

The Reading Pile Photo Challenge was won by Anne H. who shared her list of great reads. She’s won a copy of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain (Allen and Unwin)

Next we had a bit of trivia about Books to Movies, and you all proved yourselves very clever. The winner was Megan O., and she’s won a copy of Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith (Allen and Unwin) PLUS an in-season double pass to see ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ in cinemas in August.

The winner of the Favourite Front Cover Photo Challenge was Leah W. She’s won some bling! A stylish and practical crystal set Handbag Holder from our friends at iBare Giftware.

We had two winners of the Who am I? game, Sherie B. and Bec W. No tricking these guys, and they’ll both be getting a copy of Ish, by Peter H Reynolds, courtesy of The TBYL Store.

I ran two extra give-aways throughout the evening, one for anyone who subscribed to TBYL News: All Things Bookish (winner was Bec W.) and one for anyone who joined one of the June, July or August TBYL Book Club groups (the winner was Jo B.). Bec chose the lovely Mad Hatter Button Bookmark from The TBYL Store as her prize and Jo has chosen the prize of a gorgeous O-check diary from The TBYL Store.

Finally, we wrapped up the evening with a conversation, and you all told me what you were going to be reading once you were all partied out. Jane D. told us What She Was Reading and won! She’s won a copy of The Taliban Cricket Club, by Timeri N Murari (Allen and Unwin)

PLUS!!

I had more prizes than I had time, so keep an eye on TBYL for chances to play and win, I’ve got some fun games up my sleeve still.

And the first game is TODAY!! All you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me what you hope the TBYL Book Club will do next. I can’t wait to hear your ideas!

I’ll draw two winners at random on Thursday 28 June 2012. As usual, you’ll have 4 days to claim your prize or I’ll redraw.

Winners will have a choice of one of these three Harlequin titles; Fiona McCallum’s Wattle Creek, Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe or Temptation, by Karen Ann Hopkins.

Thanks so much to everyone for joining us, and of course a HUGE thank-you to our sponsors Allen and UnwinPicadorHarlequiniBare Giftware and The TBYL Store.

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All The Books I Can Read

Hello everyone and welcome to the second week of discussion for My Hundred Lovers. Before we start I’d just like to thank everyone for the discussion last week! Everyone was so forthcoming with comments and opinions and that is what makes a read-a-long so thank you all for your high level of participation.

Now we’ve read 2/3’s of the book roughly and have learned a lot more about Deborah. Has anyone’s feelings on her changed at all? Do you feel any more or less understanding of her as a character and a woman? Do you judge her, for her actions? As we found out there are probably a few sections in this part that would raise eyebrows these days!

  • We’ve learned that Deborah was married but so far her husband has not been a large part of the book, only mentioned here and there. On p172, when talking about…

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You’re invited!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my week of reviews. It feels good to have caught up on a bit of writing, and now I can spend the weekend with my head in a book!

Today’s post isn’t another review, it’s an invite to our Housewarming Party!

You may have already caught on, but the TBYL Book Club has moved house! We’ve moved the club to bigger and better premises, and even in its first week it’s proven itself to be easier to use and a nice place to hang out.

You can still get to the club via our website, but if you want to go straight there you’ll find it at http://thatbookyoulike.socialgo.com/

If you were a member of the TBYL Book Club previously, you would have received an invite by email. All you need to do is click through and your profile will be activated. If you can’t find the email, just email me (info@thatbookyoulike.com.au) and I’ll sort you out!

If you’ve not been a member before, click here and you can join up quickly and easily. Again, if you have any trouble signing up just email me and I’ll help you out.

The Party
To celebrate our move to bigger and better TBYL Book Club premises, we’re holding an online Housewarming Party on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 at 7:30 – 9:30pm.

The event will include activities, conversations, trivia, and of course – prizes! Lots of lovely prizes! There will be stationery, jewellery and accessories for you to win, and of course books, an incredible range of books!

I hope you’ll join us.

To attend, you need to have a profile in the club, which you can set up here…

You don’t have to RSVP to the event, but if you do, you’ll go into the running for a lucky door prize. You can RSVP here…

I’m so pleased to be able to welcome our friends, iBare Giftware and Allen and Unwin who are coming along for the fun. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and the TBYL Book Club for details of other wonderful friends (and their housewarming gifts) as details come to hand!

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True entertainment: The Good Father

I’ll admit that in the past I’ve steered clear of most genre lit. I’ve been a bit sceptical, about the obvious focus on ‘entertainment’ and the general popularity of writers like Picoult etc. They seemed to me a little bit mainstream, to be a little too matter-of-fact, even a little tele-movie for my liking… but I’ll be honest, I hadn’t read any and as such I’m not sure what I was basing these assumptions on.

As you know, this past year and a half I’ve challenged myself to read differently… more widely, and this has in turn help me to lighten up a bit and embrace a lot of different types of writing and writers, popular or otherwise.

As a result, I’ve recently enjoyed my first Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf, I was drawn in by Carol Marinelli’s Putting Alice Back Together and most recently, I was completely sucked in to Diane Chamberlain’s The Good Father (Harlequin).

Described as; ‘Essential reading for Jodi Picoult fans’ Chamberlain’s newest novel is about a young father, Travis, and the difficult decisions he is forced to make:

“Four years ago, nineteen-year-old Travis Brown made the choice to raise his newborn daughter on his own. While most of his friends were out partying and meeting girls, Travis was at home, changing diapers and worrying about keeping food on the table. But he’s never regretted his decision. Bella is the light of his life. The reason behind every move he makes. And so far, she is fed. Cared for. Safe. But when Travis loses his construction job and his home, the security he’s worked so hard to create for Bella begins to crumble…”

The choice of main protagonist, and his subsequent dilemma is gripping. Travis is very likeable, honourable and a father with the best of intentions. This set-up is really interesting and a nice change from so many stories where fathers are cast as cads, as disengaged or at the very least ineffectual in their children’s lives. Travis, on the other hand, shows a love for his daughter Bella that will see him do anything. And of course, that’s where his trouble begins.

In addition to Travis and Bella, Erin’s role in this accidental adventure is also an important one. Her guilt and overwhelming grief at the loss of her daughter is palpable, and provides Chamberlain a vehicle to explore the deep horror of loosing a child; the very thing that Travis is trying so hard not to do.

The story itself is pretty complex, but the storytelling is clear and tidy. It’s not wordy or overly sentimental, a very interesting study of the complexity of peoples lives as they accept their responsibilities, question loyalties and make difficult, life-altering decisions.

All of these things put together saw me read this novel quickly, hardly putting it down. It made me sad, worried, happy and reflective. I think too, I’ll be going back to take a look at some of Diane Chamberlain’s other titles, particularly when I’m after some bookish entertainment.

Has anyone else read any Chamberlain? What did you think? Do you have a favourite?

***

Tomorrow, an invite extended to you all… stay tuned!

***

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All hail, King Otto

I’d been looking for this book for a while, I just didn’t know it.

When Andrew Nicoll’s novel landed on my desk, I thought it just another story. In retrospect maybe I should have guessed from my attraction to the book’s cover, but in my defence, I try not to judge. Imagine my shock when If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead snuck up behind me and gave me a fair smack with the wacky stick. What a delightful surprise…

Andrew Nicoll’s If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead (Pan Macmillan) is Otto Witte’s hastily written memiors:

“Sitting in his caravan, drinking what is left of his coffee (dust), Otto has narrowly escaped death at the hands of allied bombs. Convinced his luck has run out and he will not see morning, he decides to record the story of his life for the poor soul who finds his body.

And what a story it is. Years earlier, when he was in either Buda or Pest, working at the circus, a newspaper article was brought to his attention. Why? Because in it was a picture of a particular Turkish prince, called to Albania to be their new king. And this prince just so happened to bear a striking resemblance to Otto…”

Presented with such an obvious opportunity, Otto does the only sensible thing – he runs away from the circus. He takes with him a camel, a cashbox and a band of strong, beautiful and mysterious friends, all of whom are loyal to the last, a worthy ‘royal’ entourage.

Otto, on his travels must undergo a transformation, from the Acrobat of Hamburg to the Kind of Albania. He uses his charm, and when that fails, his brute strength to coerce, cajole and convince his way from Budapest to Albania, and onto the Albanian throne.

Now, don’t be fooled, this is no boys-own-adventure. Claiming the Albanian crown is a serious undertaking, and it’s exactly when things get their most serious that they can also become their most bizarre:

“Arbuthnot went out and stood in the middle of the courtyard, feet together, arms spread, and he raised his long wolf jaw to the sky and he began to blow. His lips were formed in a tight O and he blew, like a silent whistle at the bring moon sky. All around the courtyard the men lining the walls did the same thing, they turned their faces up to the sky and they blew. There were dozens of men there, more than a hundred of them blowing thin blue trails of tobacco smoke at the sky, cigarettes and hookah pipes all puffing upwards and – this is the part I don’t believe – the sky darkened. The smoke rose and, as it rose, it thickened and grey clouds crept in over the rooftops and hid the sun.”

Unbenounced to Otto and his merry troupe, they were most certainly ‘sailing to murder and greed and ice-cold lust’ and so goes the rise and fall of King Otto.

Nicoll’s has created a fabulous tale, unique and colourful. It’s a fantastically funny story, whilst dark and earnest in perfect measure. The novel itself is magical, nicely reminiscent of works like Alice Through the Looking Glass, or the recent feature film Hugo. For me though, the real highlight was the fact that it reminded me of reading a novel by my favourite author, Tom Robbins. Robbins’ novels are surreal, crazy and lusty and Nicoll’s book has many of the same characteristics.

Of course, If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead is it’s own strange self, it’s wonderfully original, but at the same time it has allowed me to recapture just a little of the delight I took from reading Robbins all those years ago. That is what makes it the book I’ve been looking for, and I’m rapt.

***

Tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing a Diane Chamberlain’s edge of your seat read, The Good Father (Harlequin)

***

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Mary, Mary quite contrary: Mary Bennet

I’ve always been fascinated by the cult following attracted to romance novelists such as Jane Austen, and Charlotte and Emily Bronte. Even I have at least four copies of Pride and Prejudice in my collection and I’d hardly say that I was a die-hard fan.

This large and dedicated group of readers have allowed for an industry of sorts, based on the re-imaginings of these favourite stories. The Bennet’s story, for example, has been retold in many forms; on screen – silver and small, and on the page – some in earnest, others wild and bizarre.

Jennifer Paynter has, in her new novel Mary Bennet (Penguin) taken on the challenge of revisiting Longbourn, with her eyes set firmly on middle child Mary:

“Mary Bennet has long been overshadowed by the beauty and charm of her older sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, and by the forwardness and cheek of her younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia. From her post in the wings of the Bennet family, Mary now watches as Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy – and Mr Wickham – glide into her sisters lives. While she can view these gentlemen quite dispassionately (and, as it turns out, accurately), can she be equally clear-sighted when she finally falls in love herself?”

Mary barely rates a mentioned in the original Pride and Prejudice, and this in turns allows Paynter to re-imagine the Bennet’s story in fantastic and original detail, whilst introducing a brand new tale of maladies, the challenges of polite society and of course, romance.

In the tradition of novels like The Red Tent and plays such as Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Deadthe author has taken a neglected, nearly invisible character and ‘revealed’ their untold story, providing us with a new perspective of a story we already know so well.

Mary Bennet is beautifully true to the original story most particularly in its cast of many characters, all whose stories intertwine. Read alongside the original Pride and Prejudice, it provides a pitch-perfect accompaniment.

Jennifer has also recreated the tone, time and language expertly. Obviously, much time has been taken to research and rehearse this style of writing, and in my opinion the author gets it very right. I’d say that there’s few pages that wouldn’t have required careful research and construction, making for quite a rewarding experience on the part of the reader.

That’s not to say that this novel doesn’t present a few challenges as well. I’ve always found the intricacy of relationships and the numerous cast members of this type of writing quite difficult to follow. I found myself having to back track a bit, until I’d gotten to know the characters and their relationships to each other.

Secondly, I found Mary herself somewhat unlikeable, which made the first half of the novel a little difficult. Mary, in her youth, is melancholy, quite judgemental and overly pious. I got the impression that Paynter wanted her to come across as a ‘typical’ middle child who sees herself as neglected, isolated, and as just never quite fitting in.

Nonetheless, as her character grew so did my connection with her. I became accustomed to her tone and her habit of referencing her ‘Commonplace Book’ for lines to preach at friends and family. And, essentially, she’s not often proven wrong in her judgements of people, however harsh they may seem. So, although she’s a little holy for my liking, as a character she makes a fine protagonist an intriguing storyteller.

Paynter’s Mary Bennet would be particularly enjoyable for those who are familiar with the Pride and Prejudice story, and it’ll no doubt having you reaching for your well-thumbed copy of the original. In saying that, I am sure that the novel would also hold appeal to new readers, those who’ve not necessarily read Austen’s original, as an interesting, original story in its own right.

What do you think?

***

Tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing a very different novel, Andrew Nicoll’s If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead (Pan Macmillan)

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Buy your own copy of Mary Bennet at the TBYL Store


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Wished I’d read this as a kid: Ish

Getting the balance right between reading and writing is always a bit of a challenge. There’s always so much waiting to be read, and every now and then I find that I need to put down my pen and just read like crazy.

The last couple of weeks have been like that, and although I’ve been enjoying lots of great books, I’ve not paused to share them with you – yet. But this week I’ll put that right. Each day this week, I’ll post a new book review. I hope it’ll give you a bit of an idea of what my last couple of weeks have contained, it’s been a lovely mix of kids books and novels. A real mixed bag, just the way I like it.

To start with, I wanted to share with you a fabulous picture book that I’ve recently discovered, a book that I very much wish I had read as a kid. It’s Peter H. Reynolds’ Ish.

Peter’s book has been around for a few years now (it was published in 2005), but I’d not heard of it until my friend Yolande mentioned it in passing on Facebook, when I described my house as clean-ish. I was quietly admonishing myself for not being quite tidy enough, as I’m sure we’re all want to do in one way or another from time to time.

And there in lies the main message of Ish:

Ramon loves to draw, especially when he learns that he doesn’t have to worry about getting it “just right”

Ramon, after being teased by his big brother, almost hangs up his brushes for good. That is, until his little sister shows him much she appreciates his pictures – even if they aren’t quite perfect.

I love this idea. I wonder how many of us can remember feeling discouraged as we tried to get that picture perfect… I know I certainly struggled with that as a child, and I’ve seen my kids in turn get frustrated when their person, or house, or car didn’t come out on the page quite the way that they’d hoped. Encouraging them to let go of expectation and be freely creative can be pretty tricky but is so important to ensure that they learn to express themselves as they get older.

Peter’s book expresses beautifully the wonder in being ish-ish:

“Ramon felt light and energised. Thinking ish-ly allowed his ideas to flow freely. He began to draw what he felt – loose lines. quickly springing out. Without worry.”

And it makes me think about the amount of times that I’ve known myself and others to be paralysed by the need to produce something perfectly. It really is only once we let go of that tension and anxiety that we can move forward, be it with art or work or the everyday. That’s something that I hope to teach my kids, and I’m thankful that books like Ish will help me to do that.

To make the book all the more enticing, Reynolds is an incredible illustrator. His scenes are simple and colourful, carefree and inviting, and Ramon is the cutest little character around.

I’m looking forward to checking out some other titles by Peter, and if you’re interested in seeing what else he’s done, maybe pop over to his website and take a look.

I’d highly recommend this lovely little book, for kids and grown-ups alike.

***

Tomorrow, I’ll review Jennifer Paynter’s Mary Bennet (Penguin). If you love Pride and Prejudice, you’ll love Jennifer’s revisit.

***

Buy your own copy of Ish at the TBYL Store for only $16.95


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