You Gotta Have Friends: The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society

There’s a lot written about romance, about the search for love, lust and romantic adventure.

Barbara J. Zitwer’s The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society (Allen and Unwin) has its fair share of boy-meeets-girl narrative, it’s a nice love story which is enjoyable to watch develop. Interestingly though, it’s also quite a bit more than that. At its heart, Zitwer’s novel has friendship. It’s a lovely, quite unique story of the support and understanding that female friendship can provide over the years, with its listening, loyalty and laughter.

When Joey Rubin stumbles upon a group of elderly women swimming in a lake one freezing January morning, she thinks they must be mad. But then they dare her to come in…

Joey, an overworked New York architect, has come to the Cotswolds to oversee the restoration of Stanway House – the stately home that inspired J.M. Barrie to write Peter Pan. But it hasn’t been easy. The local residents aren’t exactly welcoming, and then there’s the problem of the brooding caretaker, a man who seems to take every opportunity to undermine her plans. She soon begins to feel that she can’t do anything right.

Until, that is, she begins to take a daily dip with the members of the J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society in their private, watery Neverland. For Joey, meeting Aggie, Gala, Lilia and co. is a lift-changing experience, the beginning of a friendship that will transform her in the most remarkable of ways…

Joey is strong, independent and driven, but she’s also a little lonely. She finds some solace in her work, her running and the company of her pet dog Tink, but even she has to admit that she might just have let some people slip away:

“The first was Alex Wilder. He had been obsessed with keeping their relationship quiet, which meant that they never went out with other couples, never met any of Joey’s friends for a drink, never had people over for dinner or went to friends’ apartments or country houses. Now that he wasn’t in her life any more, Joey realised that she’d let a lot of her friendships go. She could think of five or six women she’d grown up with or known since NYU from whom she had just drifted away.”

Interestingly, it’s not a need for a man or a love-affair that’s presented as the antidote to her solitude, but rather, it’s true and equal friendship that’ll be the cure, the best example being seen in the ladies of the Swimming Society. The strength of the women’s camaraderie is wonderful to discover throughout this story.

Cleverly, although J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society is a very likeable story, Joey herself is not always a likeable character. She seems at times to be quite superficial and a horribly harsh judge of both herself and of the people around her, including her oldest friend Sarah:

“She found herself wondering why a decade of family life had affected Sarah’s appearance the way it had, yet exerted virtually no effect on Henry’s. Was it the result of Sarah having borne the children, of her spending too much time in the kitchen, of not having a work presence in the world and hence a work wardrobe to fit into, or of just not caring about her appearance any more? Whatever the reason, Joey vowed that if she ever did have children, she wouldn’t let herself go this way.”

Even though this was quite obviously a necessary part of the story, enabling for a lovely transformation at it’s conclusion, I still found it a little frustrating. I found myself thinking of many things that I would have liked to say to Joey had I the chance. Fortunately, characters such as Aggie and Sarah said them for me, helping me feel a real sense of resolution by the conclusion of the story.

Zitwer has written a very endearing, inspiring story with a lovely balance of personal journey, self discovery and nostalgia. The references to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan were well-placed and well-used and worked to make Joey’s story poetic and unique, and well worth reading.

You’ll find copies of J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society in the TBYL Store. Shop here…

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More writers, more reading: Debute Mondays

A nice, quick post today to report back on the wonderful Wheeler Centre event that I snuck away to see last night. As usual, it took a bit of organising to get out of the house and into the city, but thanks to my lovely Mum and my understanding kids I made it to Debute Monday at The Moat, just in time.

Debute Mondays, run once a month, are an opportunity to hear new fiction straight from authors. In cozy surrounds, in an atmospherically lit corner, four emerging authors kindly shared their words…

Firstly, we heard from Jessie Cole, author of Darkness on the Edge of Town (HarperCollins). Her choice of scene was interesting, a scene in which main character burley Vincent, finds himself in his bathroom assisting a near-stranger manage burning mastitis. It was a perfect example of the starkly practical yet teasingly erotic tone of her novel. My favourite phrase of the evening… “…All bedraggled and broken”

Darkness on the Edge of Town is our TBYL Book Club book for November. You can buy a copy of the book here…

Next we heard a short story from Melbourne-based writer and student Robyn Denison. Her story, Ketchup was bizarre, evocative and beautifully visual. Again, the theme of practical, everyday objects being transformed into something much more was worked in skilfully within this surreal piece of writing. Nearing the end of the piece, Denison’s line “The movement is soothing and the leaving is pure” struck me as quite beautiful.

Next, a change of pace with Zane Lovitt. Sharing a story entitled Comedy is Dead from his crime novel The Midnight Promise (Text Publishing) and narrated by Private Investigator John Dorn, Zane had us squirming in our chairs, a little unsure where to look. His story, set in an adult entertainment store, complete with fake orgasms and associated paraphernalia was funny, irreverant and very noir. Left on a cliff-hanger, the reading left the audience wanting more…

Lastly, the evening was rounded off by the multi-talented, Melbourne-based Edwina Preston who shared a reading from her new novel The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer (UQP). I was completely captivated by the opening description of Canyon, as the type of town that did not yet understand that “large words could contain small meanings.” Even in this short snap-shot, the story was rich with characters – cartoonish but darkly so, their descriptions and roles literal and larger than life. Fascinatingly circus, and a little bit ‘carny,’ this scene brought to mind a strange blend of Nick Cave’s work and Andrew Nicolls’ If You’re Reading this I’m Already Dead.

In short, I’ve now got more books for the reading pile!

If you have a chance, I’d really encourage you to get along to one of the Wheeler Centre’s Debute Mondays. They’re a great way to support new Australian writers and to discover amazing new literature.

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Story Time for TBYL

It’s going to be quiet on the blog over the weekend, because That Book You Life is going ‘real-world’ !!

In a first for TBYL we’re going to be running a Story Time tent, accompanied by a real-life TBYL Store at this weekend’s Pink Lady Art Exhibition!

The exhibition will be held this Saturday and Sunday (10am – 5pm) at the Brighton Arts and Cultural Centre (Wilson & Carpenter Streets, Brighton, VIC, 3186) and the TBYL story reading will start at about 11am on Saturday.

I can’t wait to share some of my favourite books… Ish, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, some Nick Bland and Oliver Jeffers, with some lovely kids.  Hopefully it’ll help keep the little ones occupied while their parent’s enjoy the stunning art on show – it’s going to be a blast!

If you’re in the area I’d LOVE for you to pop by and say hi. You might even be able to pick up a book or two from The TBYL Store – it’s our first real-life set up, and I’d love your support!

The Pink Lady Art Exhibition is a community fund raising, raising money for BCNA and NBCF. It’s a cause close to my heart, and I can’t wait to do my bit in making this event a resounding success!

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Quietly Australian: Darkness on the Edge of Town

“My dad, he collects broken things… Where other people see junk he sees potential… My dad collects broken people too”

When I was asked to take a look Jessie Cole’s first novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town (Harper Collins) I was also send a sample chapter to read. This doesn’t usually happen, but I figured that it was simply a way to introduce me to a new Australian author and her first novel. What it did do was hook me in immediately, and bump the book up to the top of the Reading Pile

I can’t even really put my finger on what it was that grabbed me, maybe it was the familiarity of the speech, the immediate, palpable heartbreak or maybe just the obvious, simple compassion of Vincent…

“‘Do you want me to pull your shirt down for you?’ I asked, keeping my gaze on her face. She looked down through her wet eyes and pulled the baby in towards her. Holding it against her breast, she shook her head. I could see her shoulders begin to shudder, and then she breathed out real hard, in a kind of burst. She moaned deep, and the room was suddenly unbearably small.

I knew I couldn’t just crouch there and watch her so I picked her up like I had before. Pushing some of the clothes aside with my foot, I sat back down on the couch with her on my lap. Holding her tightly, as she held the baby, I tried to absorb some of her shaking inside me. She moaned again, and I pressed her in against me. She quietened, and I don’t know why but I rocked her gently, like she was just a baby herself, and she whimpered against my chest. Then I heard the siren.”

Darkness on the Edge of Town is the story of Vincent and his sixteen-year-old daughter Gemma. They live simply, in a small, anonymous Australian country town. They have little, but want not much more than they have. Their internal dialogue outnumbers their external dialogue, leading to a real quietness in the story, a real sense of introversion.

It’s at times quite unclear whether Vincent is self-sabotaging or selfless, or perhaps a little of both…

“When a stranger crashes her car outside Vincent and Gemma’s bush home, their lives take a dramatic turn. In an effort to help the strandard woman, father and daughter are drawn into a world of unexpected and life-changing consequences.”

Vincent’s decision to help the damaged Rachel sees the end of his relationship (albeit a dysfunctional one) and has him harshly gossiped about. His already tenuous position in the small country community is threatened and even his daughter is doubting the wisdom of his decision. Interestingly, it would seem that to Vincent there was no decision to make… Rachel needed him, he had to help.

This novel brings to mind a great number of other Australian works, both literary and cinematic. It is pretty true to the mood of many narrative-driven Australian films, and reminded me quite a bit of works by writers like Tim Winton.

It’s dark, but essentially hopeful, and quietly moving.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is our TBYL Book Club book for November, and you can pick up a copy from the TBYL Store now! I really hope you’ll join us in reading this impressive first work.

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Winners of the TBYL Treasure Hunt

I had an absolute ball last week with the TBYL Treasure Hunt, and by the sounds of it, you guys did too! Thanks so much to everyone who joined in, and all of you who continue to support TBYL. Thanks too to Harlequin and Allen and Unwin for making the prizes so desirable, you guys are great!

I’m thrilled to be able to draw four winners at random from all the answers sent in during the treasure hunt. The winners will be notified by email this afternoon, and they are…

Prize Pack No. 1, which includes a copy of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (Allen and Unwin) and Confessions of an Angry Girl, by Louise Rozett (Harlequin) has been won by Anne-Marie Baggstrom.

Prize Pack No. 2, which includes Goodbye Lullaby, by Jan Murray (Harlequin) and The Little Book of Everyday Miracles, by Sharon Snir (Allen and Unwin) has been won by Charmaine Campbell.

Prize No. 3 is a copy of the slightly wild The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson (Allen and Unwin) and has been won by Amber Dickson.

and finally…

Prize No. 4 is a copy of the inspirational Akilina – Out of the Woods, by Patricia A. Bowmer and has been won by Gloria Bale.

Again, thanks to everyone for playing along, and don’t forget to spread the word about That Book You Like… once we hit 1500 Likers on Facebook I’ll have a stack more books to give-away.

Happy reading!

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Adventurous History: The Tombs

Looks like I’ve encouraged TBYL reviewer, Fiona Boyd to ‘read differently’ too…

***

The Tombs, by Clive Cussler and Thomas Perry (Penguin) is the first book I’ve read in the contemporary adventure genre, and I must admit to thinking Mandi (of That Book You Like…) may have been a little crazy in sending it to me to review. I’m much better known for being a big consumer of psychological thrillers and detective fiction, especially those that involve woman protagonists. My favourite author to read would probably be the famous Agatha Christie, though Kerry Greenwood comes close on her heels, as I so love the Hon. Phyrne Fisher character.

Clive Cussler’s new release (written with Thomas Perry) is not my usual reading fare, but I guess it’s fair to say that it does have some plot features in common with my usual reads. It’s full of twists, turns and boundless adventure. So much adventure, in fact, that I found myself feeling exhausted as I lay on a Whitsunday Island beach on holiday, while I made my way through this book. It’s action packed, with no shortage of magnetometers and quite a lot of guns!

Casting my eye around, observing the adults reading around the pool, I spotted quite a few copies of E.L. James Fifty Shades of Grey and Katherine Stockett’s The Help in the hands of female readers. I also spotted a couple of Catherine Fox novels and Kerry Greenwood’s latest Unusual Habits. In the hands of the guys I saw plenty of Tom Clancy and of course, Clive Cussler’s The Tombs.

The opening pages of the story take us back to the 5th century AD in the time of Attila the Hun, specifically to his untimely death on his wedding night to Goth bride Ildico, and his subsequent burial….

“Priscus went to the white tent the next day and found the High King being prepared for burial in the fiery light of a hundred flaming lamps. Attila’s retainers placed him in a series of three coffins. The outer and largest one was made of iron. The coffin placed inside it was made of solid silver. The third was pure gold. The coffins were packed with the jeweled weapons of the many kings Attila had defeated.”

With all that loot, Attila’s people were hardly going to bury him anywhere obvious…

“The elite horsemen of the burial detail were returning to the great encampment of the Huns…. When the thousand riders drew up, they dismounted and bowed to the assembled chiefs…Ellak, the eldest heir of Attila, stepped up to the leader of the burial party, a man named Mozhu. He put his hand on Mozhu’s shoulder and said. “Tell us.”

Mozhu said, “We took the High King to a place in the bend of a river far away where travelers seldom pass. We built a crypt as deep as two men are tall, with a sloping entrance, and carried the coffins to the bottom. Then we covered the crypt and the sloping passage. We herded our thousand horses across the area many times until it was impossible to pick out the precise spot where the crypt was buried. Then we diverted the river so it will flow deep over the High King’s tomb forever.”

Whew! No wonder Attila’s remains have remained unfound and undisturbed. That’s a lot of effort going towards making sure all that gold, jewellery and bounty made it to the afterlife with Attila the Hun.

Now that’s where “The Tombs” starts but not nearly where it ends. Our key protagonists in this novel are adventurers and treasure hunters, Sam and Remi Fargo, who due to a successful sale of a business have been able to spend their time helping out archeologists and historical researchers on ancient sites, most of which seem to involve some kind of buried treasure. How’s that for a life?!

Their dear friend, the respected Roman historian and archeologist, Albrecht Fischer has made the important discovery in Hungary  of an unusual corpse  and enlists the Fargos’ to help him quietly get back into the country and excavate the rest of the site. In doing so, the Fischer’s helpers find another 999 corpses. Mysteriously, all are decapitated and all have their weapons were buried with them. An enigma, but not the only one as the group finds a mysterious message from Attila the Hun that indicates that this site is one of five important positions involved in his burial and that in the others, much treasure and bounty from his years of taking territory through Europe and Asia can be found.

Not surprisingly, Sam and Remi take on the task of finding the remaining sites while their researchers and Dr Fischer head back home do the decoding of the cryptic messages revealed in this adventure. The Tombs rockets along seemingly in its own time and space, I often wondered how this couple could do so much in so little time and without much rest and recovery. However, be assured, Cussler and Perry make sure their heroes are always well-fed and appropriately dressed. Their Attila adventure takes them to Hungary, France, Transylvania (in Romania), Russia and finally to Rome, and interestingly, we get to find out their precise dinner arrangements at every location. The Fargos sure eat well on their adventures.

As they progress through this adventure, the Fargos make friends of local police and seem to be able to find the good guys in every territory. Nonetheless, they also cross paths and intents with the dreaded Arpad Bako, a wealthy businessman and black marketer who claims to be descended from Attila the Hun and seems to have made the warrior and the finding of this tomb, his own private obsession. He has equally unpleasant associates – in France, a Etienne Le Clerc and in Russia, Sergei Poliokoff, whose country estate is blown up by the Fargos. Not that the Fargos are terror-loving people mind you, it just seems that wherever they go trouble finds them and they need to do extreme things to extricate themselves.

The Tombs is a pleasant adventure romp through history and through Europe and culminates in the finding of serious amounts of treasure and the revelation of some of Attila the Hun’s well hidden secrets. The ending of the story also sees a fitting conclusion for the bad buys, although I found it somewhat unusual that the novel would end with shootings and houses being blown up, to me it seem to conclude nicely without this.

Anyway, if you’re about to head off on holidays and don’t want to be bored, take The Tombs with you and have a heart-thumping read! It’s got history, adventure, food, and a happy ending. What more could you want from a blokes-own-adventure story?

***

You can find out more about The Tombs, by Clive Cussler and Thomas Perry here

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TBYL Treasure Hunt – Very Final Clue

Okay, I’m still waiting to finalise the amazing prize packs I’ve got on offer to winners for the TBYL Treasure Hunt, and so I thought I’d extend the competition just by a day, with one very final activity for you! This one is going to require a camera and a couple of words. You’ll need to do two things… firstly, take a photo of your book collection – big or small, old or new, just bookish and then answer the question…

“What do you love most about your book collection?”

You’ve got until midnight tonight to email the answer and photo to info@thatbookyoulike.com.au. If you’d like your photo included in a TBYL photo gallery, please indicate ‘yes’ in your email.

You’ll find full instructions of how the competition works here.

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TBYL Treasure Hunt – Clue Number 4

Thursday’s clue is about your favourites and what TBYL has had to say about them. To find the answer to today’s question, you’ll need to visit the blog to decide…

“Which has been your favourite review on That Book You Like…?

You’ve got until midnight tonight to email the answer to info@thatbookyoulike.com.au. You’ll find full instructions of how the competition works here.

PLUS keep an eye on the Facebook page today for details of the prizes up for offer!

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TBYL Treasure Hunt – Wednesday Bonus

A bonus question for the treasure hunt this evening! Visit the TBYL Store to find out the answer to this question:

“What is your very favourite item in the TBYL Store at the moment?”

You’ve got until midnight tonight to email the answer to info@thatbookyoulike.com.au. You’ll find full instructions of how the competition works here.

PLUS everyone who answers one of the two Wednesday questions will go into the running to win a copy of ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed (Find out more) drawn at random tomorrow!

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TBYL Treasure Hunt – Clue Number 3

Wednesday’s clue is about reading and chatter, about online connection with other bookish people. To find the answer to today’s question, you’ll need to visit the TBYL Book Club to find out…

“What are the TBYL Book Club books for October AND November 2012?”

You’ve got until midnight tonight to email the answer to info@thatbookyoulike.com.au. You’ll find full instructions of how the competition works here.

Hope you’re enjoying the treasure hunt!

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