Tough and Inspiring: My Wild Ride

Today’s review is from TBYL Reviewer Kate Barber. Kate recently read the inspirational story of horse-rider Fiona Johnson in her memiors My Wild Ride from Allen and Unwin. Here’s her thoughts on this tough but inspiring read…

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My  Wild RideMy Wild Ride is the true story of Fiona Johnson who, at 25 years of age seems to have it all. She is newly married to the man of her dreams, has just bought a 5 acre property and is about to embark on building her first home when, in the prime of her life, she is diagnosed with Acute Myloid Leukaemia.

And so begins the biggest battle of her life. She begins a rigorous round of chemotherapy complicated by numerous setbacks and emotional uncertainty. She completes her chemotherapy with the amazing support of her adoring husband Matt, her family and her newly found faith in God.

Fiona goes into remission but her fight is not over. She recommences chemotherapy but is then faced with the choice of have a transplant or not – as she is given on 50% chance of surviving the next 5 years either way. On top of all this she desperately wants to have a child and her chances are slim after such intensive chemotherapy.

Fiona’s love of horses and determination then sees her embracing the rodeo circuit in the quest to forfill a life long dream of competing on the Australian Rodeo Circuit and, against all odds, to have a child.

Fiona’s story is told with honestly and it really is quite inspiring, the way in which she has been able to overcome everything that has been thrown her way with resilience and determination. Her love of horses and the rodeo circuit is spoken about with a lot of enthusiasm and is quite informative – great if you don’t know anything about this sport. As will most autobiographies of this nature it is very sad at times, however her positivity and determination definitely shines through.

Fiona is now the mother of 2 children and is cancer-free.

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To find out more about Fiona Johnson’s My Wild Ride visit the Allen and Unwin website here.

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Five Things

It’s a new week, and there’s so much going on in TBYL-land that today’s post brings you five small things of note…

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The first thing is that, despite being a little busy doing the day-job on Monday and Tuesday, the transit time gives me a fabulous chance to get some reading done. I’m pleased, as it’ll give me a chance to get into my Mother’s Day reading A Grandmother’s Wisdom by Catriona Rowntree (Allen and Unwin). I’ve only read a chapter so far, but so far it’s very sweet

Thing two is about a bookish chat we’re about to start. The April TBYL Book Club starts today, and I’m looking forward to hear what you think about The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier (Allen and Unwin). You can read a review here and join the conversation here.

Thing number three is a wonderful development for the next TBYL Event The Next Step. As well as being a fantastic chance to chat with publishers and authors, attending this event will also give you the chance to win an USB key from Escape Publishing, loaded with titles from Charmaine Ross and Rhian Cahill. There are three up for grabs, and winners will drawn on the night. The event will be held 22 May 2013 (7pm) at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne. Book your tickets now!

newspaper_bw3The forth thing is that next Monday, the May edition of TBYL News: All Things Bookish… will be published. It’ll have interviews, favourite reviews, special offers and a fantastic book give-away. If you’ve not subsribed to receive it by email, you can SUBSCRIBE here!

Finally, thing five is all about staying in touch. Our Facebook community is growing bigger by the week, and I wanted to invite you to Like Us  if you haven’t already. It’s the best way to keep up to date with what’s going on with TBYL. We’re on Twitter and Pinterest also, if that’s more your thing. Can’t wait to connect!

So that’s a little of what’s going on with TBYL at the moment. There’s also lots of author-interviews in the pipelines, as well as a new mobile friendly TBYL Store in the works, but more about that later…

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April TBYL Book Club, starting Monday

On Monday, we’ll start chatting about this month’s TBYL Book Club book, The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier (Allen and Unwin).

Unfinished JournalsI’d say that there are two quite distinct themes in Bernier’s novel. The first is that of internal conflict and second, the notion of who you are versus who you seem to be. Both of these themes make for an incredibly moving story, one that really gets to the heart of what it is to be a woman living a suburban, matrimonial and maternal life…

You can read the full review here

It’s a fairly quick read, so if you’ve got a little time over the weekend, it’s not too late to join in the discussion. You can join the conversation on the TBYL Book Club on Monday, 29 April 2013.

For the May book club, I’d like to propose a theme, rather than a book… Stay tune for more information at the beginning of next month.

Hope that you have a wonderful, bookish weekend!

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A Little More: About TBYL

I’ll admit to being a little bit surprised by the request from Michelle at Beauty and Lace. They wanted to know a little bit more about That Book You Like and about the blogger behind it (that’d be me).

My pink popular penguinsI was a little nervous, it’s usually about the books, you know?  But in the end I decided it would be fun exercise and agreed to answer a few questions about TBYL.

I had a chance to chat about my favourite books, my favourite authors, and more generally, how TBYL came about.

If you’re curious to find out a little bit more about this bookish blog, and about what’s rattling about in my busy brain, here it is …

Visit the Beauty and Lace article here…

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TBYL Events: The Next Step

I’m thrilled to be able to reveal the details of the next TBYL Event, which will be held on Wednesday 22 May 2013, 7pm – 8pm at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne.

“The Next Steps” is a perfect session for all of us who dream of one day being published, but who aren’t quite sure where to start…

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It’s your chance to get some tips, straight from the source, on how best to achieve your dream of being a published author. TBYL Events is proud to present Kate Cuthbert, Managing Editor from Escape Publishing (the exciting new digital publishing arm of Harlequin) and two successful Escape authors Rhian Cahill and Charmaine Ross.

They’ll be sharing their experiences of writing and publishing, offering advice on everything from pitching your ideas, developing your story, manuscript presentation, and hints on the submission process.

This one-hour session is an opportunity to tap into the exciting world of publishing, to ask questions and to share experiences with other aspiring authors.

If you’d like some take-away information, you can download a brochure here and you can find out more about Escape Publishing and our special guests Kate, Rhian and Charmaine on the TBYL website.

Tickets are just $20 ($15 concession) and seats are limited. You can book now…

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Good People: Soupvan, Stories Over a Polystyrene Cup

On Tuesday this week, more horror, this time in Boston. On the news, images were played repeatedly… the same graphic, upsetting imagery on loop, over and over. Fire and smoke, damaged humans, tears and devastation.

It’s easy to get angry, to throw your hands up in despair and wonder at the state of humanity. But then we might noticed a theme, a fact pointed out by a quiet few on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere… they asked us to take a look at all the people running towards the trouble, not away from it.

Some people, even in the face of great personal risk will do what they can, when the moment is upon them, to help their fellow human beings. Taking note of this, it helps.

soupvanIt is this desire to help, in a modest, practical, and meaningful way that makes Keira Dickinson’s Soupvan – Stories Over a Polystyrene Cup (Rag and Bone Man) such an inspiring work…

The soup vans of Melbourne are not just about soup – they’re about creating a universe on a street corner where everyone is equal.

Pick up this book anywhere, anytime, at any page, to be reminded of what it is to live, share, celebrate and commiserate. These stories capture what really happens on the streets of your city. We are privileged to be able to share.

It’s a celebration of the volunteer, the ‘vannie’ who puts their hand up to make sandwiches, to stir soup, and almost as importantly, to lend an ear. It’s about stories, the volunteers being paid back in spades by those they help as they build connections with unique individuals, many of whom have amazing, often moving stories to tell.

These stories form the core of book. They’re harrowing, inspirational, simple and frank…

“What happened was this. I was born into charity at the end of the war in 1945. If it wasn’t for America we would have all starved. I was a premature baby. That was my father’s fault. He walked in to the house one day. My mother was standing in the kitchen. He had blood all over him. He had killed our next door neighbour. That man had accused him of stealing. My father was a liar but he didn’t steal. My mother was in such a state of shock she started to have contractions. I was born right away, three months early. My father went to jail, my mother died soon after from blood poisoning, and I was stunted because I starved and had no one to raise me.”

…and they put into context the sometimes damaged, often ostracised individuals that live on the fringes of our community.

Sometimes the vannies have their own stories…

“We all had our reasons for joining the van. You can’t be a volunteer, they say, without a hidden agenda. Thing is, our agendas were pretty much out in the open, pretty in line with the soup van way of life. My grandparents were alcoholics, Stephen was raised as a child with surrogate parents, Mark became a Buddhist… “

…and I think that’s maybe why the soup vans work so well. The vans don’t just help the community, they are genuinely part of the community. Through these stories, from both the volunteers and those grabbing good food from good people, there’s no sense of superiority or paternalism. It would seem that these programs are really just a very practical, lend-a-hand service appreciated equally by those inside and outside of the van.

It’s a wonderful relief to be reminded that most of us are essentially good people, just trying to get along, helping each other out where we can. And as Keira wisely says; “Don’t ever give up on anyone; be kind to people. Because under different circumstances it could have been you.” Indeed, be kind to people…

Take a look, find out more about Soupvan stories here and you can buy the book here.

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Loyality: The Ambassador’s Daughter

Today’s review of Pam Jenoff’s The Ambassador’s Daughter (Harlequin) comes from the lovely TBYL Reviewer, Tam.

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Historical, international, and romantic, Jenoff’s story of friendship and love crosses many boundaries…

the ambassador's daughterParis, 1919. The world’s leaders have gathered to rebuild from the ashes of the Great War. But for one woman, the City of Light harbours dark secrets and dangerous liaisons, for which many could pay dearly.

Brought to the peace conference by her father, a German diplomat, Margot Rosenthal initially resents being trapped in the congested French capital, where she is still looked upon as the enemy. But as she contemplates returning to Berlin and a life with Stefan, the wounded fiancé she hardly knows anymore, she decides that being in Paris is not so bad after all.

Bored and torn between duty and the desire to be free, Margot strikes up unlikely alliances: with Krysia, an accomplished musician with radical acquaintances and a secret to protect; and with Georg, the handsome, damaged naval officer who gives Margot a job—and also a reason to question everything she thought she knew about where her true loyalties should lie.

Against the backdrop of one of the most significant events of the century, a delicate web of lies obscures the line between the casualties of war and of the heart, making trust a luxury that no one can afford.

While I did come to enjoy this book, I must admit that it took me a little while to get into. The author has done her research exceptionally well and this historical fiction is full of details about World War I and the negotiations for the peace treaty at the war’s end. I found myself more engrossed in the story when the very solitary main character, Margot, makes friends with two unlikely choices, Krysia, and then the handsome officer Georg, who she works closely with and starts to develop feelings for. These feelings lead to many questions of loyalty and true happiness.

This story has intrigue, political drama and danger, romance, mystery and misery. Margot finds herself torn between her loved ones, deciding who she will protect and where her loyalties truly lie, and this is a constant struggle for her. Margot is naive to the real happenings of life and this leads her to making many mistakes and being easily mislead. How far will she let the deceptions send her life out of control?

Ultimately, Margot must choose between the life she feels that she should honour or being truly happy and taking the chances in life that she wants to explore.

A beautiful and tragic post-war picture is painted in this novel of Paris and Germany and I believe would be a great read for history and political story lovers.

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If you’d like to find out more about The Ambassador’s Daughter, you can visit the Harlequin website here…

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Love Stories? The Last Girlfriend on Earth

Last week was incredible – I spent hours playing in parks, chatting with Oscar and hanging out with my Mum. I got out of house, away from the computer and enjoyed what was probably the last bit of decent Melbourne weather that we’ll get for a while. Not much writing got done. It’s the first proper week off I’ve had for a long while, and it has done me the world of good.

But now the kids are back to school, and it’s time to dust off the desk chair and plant my bum in it, eyes glued firmly to the computer screen. I’ve got a dozen reviews to write and a brand new TBYL Event to arrange.

I wasn’t quite sure where to start, but after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I decided to chat about a book that on the face of it, seemed pretty light hearted.

The last girlfriend on earthDuring the break I read an intriguing collection of short stories, The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories (Allen and Unwin), a new book from the author of What in God’s Name, Simon Rich…

It doesn’t matter if you’re a robot, a caveman, or an alien from outer space: sooner or later, some girl’s going to break your heart…

“On the third day, God’s girlfriend came over and said that He’d been acting distant lately. ‘I’m sorry,’ God said. ‘Things have been crazy this week at work.’ He smiled at her, but she did not smile back. And God saw that it was not good.”

Simon’s short stories are fantastic, bite-sized tales full of crazy and heart. They’re funny, and at times, quite dark – they’ll leave you feeling slightly love-lorn whilst you giggle quietly.

They’re modern stories, mostly from a male point of view and taken from every possible perspective – alien, heavenly, mythical and suburban.

There’s “Victory”, featuring Josh as he receives presidential accolades for a successful evening of romantic endeavour (he scored!) and then there’s poor Brent, who falls for the oldest trick in the book in “Sirens of Gowanus”…

He heaved his amp over his shoulder and headed towards the singer. She had moved on to another tune by now – a b-side by Big Star. The streetlamps grew sparser as he neared the Gowanus Canal, but he was able to spot her in the moonlight. She was under the Carroll Street bridge, sitting on a round, smooth rock. Her silky eyelashes fluttered as she sang. And whenever she hit a high note, she playfully splashed the water with her feet. She was naked from the waist up, two large breasts protruding from her slender, bird-like frame.

There’s also a quiet cynicism, which you’ll find in stories like “Children of the Dirt” – the mythical tale of the Children of the Moon, Sun and Earth, all of whom are insufferable to the lesser known, and lesser loved, Children of the Dirt.

And of course there’s self-sacrifice, real love, which will make you sigh a little in between your laughter.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection of stories. I’ll admit that I found a couple of them a little bit cliched, but mostly they were funny, sweet and cheeky. If you’re after a quick, light read The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories might do the job nicely.

If you’d like to find out more about Simon Rich’s book, you can visit the Allen and Unwin website here…

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Blue fire: Indigo Awakening

Today, TBYL Reviewer, Carolyn Jones introduces us to the Indigo Children of Jordan Dane’s Indigo Awakening (Harlequin)…

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Jordan Dane’s young adult novel Indigo Awakening introduces us to a complex and intriguing idea, bringing us the Indigo Children.

Indigo AwakeningDuring the 1970s, a pseudoscientific new-age theory emerged introducing the world to a new group of people. According to this new notion, children are born with unique and paranormal abilities and are considered to be the next stage of evolution in mankind – they are the Indigo Children. Jordan uses this set of ideas as the basis for her newest novel.

Set in present day Los Angeles, seventeen year old Rayne Darby begins her story on a quest to locate her missing younger brother, Lucas.  She struggles to know where to start, as all she knows is that Lucas has escaped the private mental hospital their older sister had him committed to after the death of their parents.  Rayne has never recovered from the guilt she feels for allowing the committal of her brother to this hospital, and so sets out to find him.

As she begins her search, the only thing that Rayne knows for sure is that she needs to trust her instincts and keep this quest a secret from her older sister, as well as from the adults who run the hospital.

In good fortune, Rayne meets Gabriel – a tall, dark and handsome young man who, from the moment she lays eyes on him, evokes feelings of real love and safety. And, he isn’t your average boy… rather, he is accompanied by a ghost dog, screams silent rage and catches on fire.  With an introduction like that, Rayne realises that she needs this strange and fascinating boy’s help to find her brother.

“The damned thing moved and drifted like a ghost. Rayne could’ve sworn it never touched the ground. She blinked twice, but the phantom dog didn’t go away, and that boy never looked down. Frozen in that moment with him, Rayne felt strangely calm and watched as he kept his face lifted toward the night sky. She thought things couldn’t get any weirder, but when that ghost dog brushed against him –

The boy caught fire.

Blue fire.”

At the same time, we meet a gang of teenagers living in the abandoned and forgotten underground of L.A.  These are no ordinary teenagers, they have the ability to communicate telepathically – they are Indigo Children.  Some have stronger powers than others but all are on a common mission to locate the many misunderstood Indigo Children to keep them safe from the “Believers”.  The Believers are adults running a fanatical church, who spend their time hunting Indigo teens in order to run scientific and inhumane research, mostly involving tests on the brains of these children.

The author of this book, Jordan Dane, takes the reader on an action-packed ride, building suspense throughout each chapter.  She has created strong female characters, all of whom have a power over the males in their lives.  She nurtures and grows each character so that readers will empathises with them in their struggle against a conspiracy-lead adult world.

This novel is young adult fiction and I believe Jordan Dane beautifully describes the angst and fear that is associated with first love.  She describes the transformations that the Indigo Children experience so vividly all while managing to let the reader know how these young adults are struggling with their own misunderstandings of their powers.  I believe the author did a stellar job at knowing her market, making children stand together as one to fight adults in a very one-sided world.  She also taps into relevant pop culture making reference to current music groups and comedy shows to engage her audience.

Indigo Awakening is the first book in the “Hunted” series and can be read as a stand alone novel or as the introduction to a new series. Interestingly, Jordan Dane does what so many young adult stories do these days, ending the novel with a cliffhanger, ‘encouraging’ readers to buy into the franchise.  Fortunately an excerpt of the follow-up novel is provided.  I can see this story being made into a film with state-of-the-art special effects following the lead of other young adult franchises such as The Hunger Games and Twilight.

Indigo Awakening is a good read and contains strong lead characters that may empower young readers to trust their instincts. Using the city of L.A. as the backdrop, this fast moving city symbolises the confusion that all teens feel at some point in their lives.

I have read quite a bit of paranormal teen fiction in the last few months so believing in the powers of Indigo Children was not too difficult for me.  For those who are new to this genre I do think Indigo Awakening might be a tad hard to get into at first, as the start of the novel introduces a large number of characters with little explanation of what motivates them.  Perhaps this is the trick to Jordan Dane’s intrigue but I found it to be a little too rushed and had to force myself to sit down for a long period just to get into the story.  However, if you love young adult stories or even paranormal fiction then I think you will enjoy this novel.  Considering there really is a phenomenon surrounding Indigo Children I believe some readers will be enticed to learn more about this idea and the conspiracy theories associated with it.

If you’d like to find out more about Jordan Dane’s Indigo Awakening, visit the website here…

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One Girl: Navel Gazing

I don’t know about you guys, but I think about my body a lot. I think about its size, its shape, its tweaks and twists and its general health.

If I’m honest, I probably think about it a bit too much, but the mind will do what the mind will do and after being sick a few times I’ve become a little hyper-aware.

navel gazingFor this reason, I was drawn to Anne H. Putnam’s Navel Gazing (Allen and Unwin), despite that fact that I’m not normally one for memoirs. Typically, they’re not my favourite type of writing, but I was interested in Anne’s story…

Almost every woman worries about her weight. For Anne H. Putnam, it became unavoidable – by the age of seventeen she weighed over twenty stone and had tried everything, from dieting to fat camp to wearing big t-shirts. When she decided to have weight-loss surgery, she thought her life would change. But now, nine years later and ten sizes smaller, she has discovered that changing your body doesn’t automatically change how you feel about it.

I’ve never considered weight-loss surgery (I’ve had my fill of major surgery) but I have experienced substantial weight-loss (I once lost 25 kg in 12 months) and the internal and external reactions that it brings with it. I was pretty sure I knew what Anne was talking about.

There are two things that set Anne’s story apart from other weight-loss stories. Firstly, there’s her young age – the idea of such a young person undergoing such life-changing surgical intervention is at once frightening and fascinating…

“Dad chattered excitedly about how we’d never be able to eat like this again after the surgery. I nodded, although it was hard to imagine being unable to eat more than a fist-sized portion of anything before I felt full, and actually getting sick from fat and sugar. But I didn’t care what we could and couldn’t put in into our bodies, as long as it didn’t require constant vigilance and willpower and the dark, lurking knowledge of failure to come. I was happy to live the rest of my life unable to eat fried things without getting sick; I just wanted to be thin.”

The second thing that made this book compelling was her focus on the psychological side of weight-gain, weight-loss, body image and self esteem. She struggles, sometimes quietly, other times loudly with the way in which her personal, entrenched perceptions makes her feel about herself and others.

These elements make Navel Gazing realistic and multi-dimentional. I really appreciated this reflection on weight management, and its recognition of this as an issue that goes beyond the simple ‘eat less, do more’ approach.

Anne’s writing is tidy and easily read. Only once or twice did I wonder at the choice to include a particular story or recollection. There were occasions where I did get a little impatient with Anne’s obsessions, but then I reminded myself that that was kind of the whole point of the book, and I felt for her.

I most certainly found myself wishing Anne all the best for her future.

This is an important book, with the potential to help people better understand the complexities of weight management, perhaps most particularly for those working in the medical and fitness industry… I think it’d give them a really interesting, gritty and realistic insight into the mind of a girl struggling within and against her body. This, I would think, could only be helpful.

You can find out more about Anne H. Putnam’s Navel Gazing here…

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