Meeting Chris Allen

On Monday night, we held our first online TBYL Event, where we had a chance to chat with author Chris Allen. It was entertaining and informative, a fabulous insight into writing, reading and living an adventurous life.

Here’s how it happened…

TBYL: To start with… the links between yourself, your career and your writing absolutely fascinate me. Could you tell us a little more about how you came to writing, and the relationship that your work has with the stories that you tell?

Chris Allen Typing

Chris: Great question. It’s one of those chicken/egg scenarios I think. I’ve wanted to write from about the age of 14 or 15. I loved action movies and TV shows, obviously the Bond films became my favourites but back then you had to wait for them to be on TV rather than just going out and hiring the (dare I say it) video! So, the only real option for me was to find the books to read in between waiting for Bond movies to appear on TV. As soon as I read Ian Fleming’s ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – it was in the school library – I was hooked. Then it was a matter of wanting to lead a life that would enable me to write my own stories and one thing led to another…

TBYL: Do you think you would have been able to write the stories that you have without the real-life experiences that you’ve had?

Chris: There are many great authors – past & present – who have not actually led the lives of their protagonists yet they still manage to write fantastic stories. The crux of the issue is that people want to be entertained by the story. The ability to achieve that, the process of conveying the story is different for every writer. In my case, I was eager to get out and see the world and have some adventures of my own with the intent to write about it all at some point. In my case, as an errant teenager, anything I tried to write back then was just drivel. So, I think it was best that I waited for a while. As it turned out, I ended up getting my first book published when I was about the same age that Ian Fleming was when he had Casino Royale published.

TBYL: Did you ever find yourself in the middle of a place, event, adventure and thinking ‘wow, this’ll be a good story’?

Chris: Occasionally I did found myself saying ‘If I live through this I may just write about it!’

TBYL: Your characters are very likeable or loathsome, well developed and stay with you once you’ve finished reading the books. How do you go about building such a believable cast?

Chris: Thanks so much. I’m thrilled to hear that reaction. There are two sides to this. Firstly, I base my principal characters i.e. Alex Morgan and his compadres, on people I actually know very well. For the most part, these are people with whom I’m still very closely connected. So, its easy for me to describe them as they are – as you say, likeable and real. In terms of the loathsome creatures who from time to time inhabit my pages, I’ve also based some of them on people I have personal experience of. Of course, the antagonists really need to be, in my opinion, larger than life. So, I tend to draw of characteristics, attitudes or behaviours I seen in others that I don’t like and then infuse them into the larger than life evil-types who Morgan has to deal with.

TBYL: What do your friends think about being committed to page (the good guys I mean)?

Chris: I think the guys secretly love it, although they do like to chastise me a bit for taking liberties. That said, they’re always keen to tell anyone who’ll listen that they’re the inspiration for this character or that one. It’s funny.

TBYL: How you do set yourself apart from other action and adventure writers?

Chris: Phew! How do I answer that one? I guess, in a contemporary sense, what I’m trying to do with my Intrepid series is write stories that are (I hope) reminiscent of the stories I grew up on while giving them a new edge. Someone recently described my books ‘like an old friend with new stories’ and that really captured it for me. While I want to keep the books as real as possible, I don’t want to be writing training manuals. So, it’s important for me to also maintain the escapism.For example, there are plenty of books out there about the CIA, the FBI, Secret Service, Mossad etc etc but I want readers to be excited about something completely new… a truly international agency that serves the world community, not just one country. That’s why I cam up with Intrepid.

TBYL: I assume that’s why your take your reader to a new location almost every new chapter?

Chris Allen ClovellyChris: Yeah, I like to keep the reader on their toes! It’s important to not only keep the pages moving but, wherever possible, I like to catapult the reader through the chapters. Taking people around the world while they’re sitting on a bus or train immediately gives them that sense of escape. That’s what I enjoy so much about my favourite books. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve missed their train stop on the way to and from work. I love that!

TBYL: Personally, I really like the fact that although your stories are rich with detail, they’re not heavy with ‘specs’. Is this choice to avoid micro-detailed descriptions of weaponry/strategy/etc deliberate?

Chris: You’re spot on about the specs and weaponry. I believe in giving the reader just enough to enable them to make sense of those things so that they can continue to enjoy the story rather than leaving them qualified to actually operate the gear!

TBYL: At about the time of Hunter’s publication, you struck up a new friendship with Momentum Books. Can you tell us a little about this? How are you finding the digital publishing industry?

Chris: I’ve been really fortunate to have found a great publisher to work with on Defender and Hunter. Joel Naoum is the publisher who runs Momentum and it was clear to me right from the outset that he got where I was coming from – the whole ‘old-school meets new-school’ approach I’m taking with the books. So, it made complete sense for me to partner with Momentum under Joel’s stewardship. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Digital publishing is absolutely the future. That said, there are still huge sections of the reading community around the world who prefer to read from the printed/paper page and in my view, as an author you have to address that if you want your work to be read by as many people as possible. After all, if you’re a rock band and you know that half of your potential market still listens to music on vinyl, you’re not going to limit your latest album just to CD or digital. You’re going to get vinyl LPs pressed too! That’s certainly my approach anyway!

TBYL: So what about you? Do you have a preference when you’re reading?

Chris: I fall right in the middle – I love my kindle and it’s full of my old and new favourites, but I still like to pick up a paper book and settle in for a read! The stories are everything. I have all of Conan Doyle’s stories in paperback and eBook. Can’t get enough. In fact it’s much easier to read the full Sherlock Holmes compendium on my kindle than carting around a paperback the size and weight of an average house brick!

TBYL: Do you have plans for Intrepid 3 yet? What can you tell us?

Chris: Ah ha! THE question  Well, I am currently writing the third Alex Morgan adventure which, those of you who’ve read HUNTER will know, is called AVENGER. I don’t want to spoil it by letting on too much but I can assure you that I will be delving much more into Alex Morgan. A lot of readers have told me that they want to know more about him, so I’m really enjoying bringing Alex to life, exploring him as a man not just a secret agent.

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I must extend a huge thank-you to Chris, Sarah and Momentum Books for helping make Intrepid Month happen. I had a fantastic time, and I hope you’ve all been adequately tempted to pick up one of Chris’ books! You wont be disappointed…

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July TBYL Book Club

This month, I’ve had fun encouraging you all to read a little differently and enjoy a couple of action/adventure titles, and Intrepid Month, featuring Defender and Hunter has been fantastic.

We were lucky to hear from author Chris Allen on Monday night, and I’m sure you’ll agree that his insights into writing, publishing and reading were both entertaining and informative. I’ll be posting a summary of the online event ‘Meet Chris Allen’ in the days to come.

If you’d like to find out more about Chris Allen and his books, visit his website here.

the wild girlTonight, as we wrap up the June club, I’m pleased to announce the July TBYL Book Club book. It’s an intriguing title, suggested by a TBYL reader and one that I’ve not read myself. I’m excited to experience it with you.

This month, we’ll be reading Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl (Random House)…

Growing up in the German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in the early nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy-tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm.

It is a time of war, tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save the old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.

Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’ and ‘Six Swans’. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen’s father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream. 

Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales…

Will you join us? If you’ve read The Wild Girl (or other Kate Forsyth novels), what should we expect?

If you’d like to join in the conversation, it’ll happen at our Facebook page on Monday, 29 July until Wednesday, 31 July 2013. If you’d like to check out a sample of Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl you can do so here…

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I can’t wait to read this novel, and I hope you’ll get involved in the July TBYL Book Club!

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The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs

Today’s review of The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout (Allen and Unwin) has been written for us by TBYL Reviewer, Tam. I sent this book her way as I know she’s a bit of an animal lover, and thought she’d enjoy this tail (see what I did there?).

Indeed, it would seem that she was drawn into the intrigue of The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs…

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The story begins when, after fifteen years, Dr. Cyrus Mills returns to rural Vermont to inherit the Bedside Manor for Sick Animals, the failing veterinary practice of his recently deceased and long-estranged father. Cyrus, a veterinary pathologist far more comfortable with cold clinical facts than living, breathing animals (not to mention their quirky, demanding owners), intends to sell the practice and get out of town as fast as he can.

the patron saint of lost dogsThen his first patient – a down-on-her-luck golden retriever named Frieda Fuzzypaws – wags her way through the door, and suddenly life gets complicated. With the help of a black Labrador gifted in the art of swallowing underwear, a Persian cat determined to expose her owner’s lover as a gold digger, and the allure of a feisty, pretty waitress from the local diner, Cyrus gets caught up in a new community and its endearing residents, both human and animal. Sensing he may have misjudged the past, he begins to realise it’s not just his patients that need healing.

The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs is a winsome tale of new beginnings, forgiveness, and the joy of finding your way home.

As the story began I found it a little hard to tolerate Cyrus. He seemed weak, a character who would do anything to avoid having to feel and own the situation. But, as I read further into the story, I found that the author Nick Trout wrote the voice of our leading man very well. After we got to know Cyrus a little, I found it wonderful how way I could step into his shoes, feel his panic, confusion, hurt and doubt. I liked the internal dialog we were privy to, providing an insight into how Cyrus managed each dilemma and calmed himself down enough to manage each tricky situation.

The story achieves a really nice balance between the technical jargon which transports you to the setting of a veterinary clinic, and the human stories which draw you into the novel. This small town in Vermont is intriguing, despite the fact that at the beginning of the story it appears to be little more than a prison for Cyrus, a sentence that he has to serve after he inherits the clinic (full of hurtful memories and regret) from his father. During his stay, Cyrus discovers that every story does in fact have two sides and finds himself considering the possibility that he may have been mislead in his anger at his father.

Cyrus and, I as the reader, begin to love the residents of this small town and their furry friends. Even though in the past Cyrus has always found it easier to work in the clinical setting of pathology, rather than having to deal with live cases and their associated emotions, throughout The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs he finds his feet and discovers that perhaps the clinic he has inherited is not the burden he first believed.

The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs is a great book for pet lovers! Filled with furry creatures, mysteries to solve, love interests and just a touch of blackmail!!

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You can find out more about The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout on the Allen and Unwin website…

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Cheap Books (need I say more?)

A quick post today, just to make sure that you’ve got our Open House Book Clearance in your diary – it’s happening this weekend!

The TBYL Store has to clear some stock, and I thought… “what better way than to have an open house?!” For two days I’ll have a great range of books for adults and kids, set up in my front room.

open houseNow, I know you probably can’t join me in real life, and so I thought I’d better share the goodies with you via the world wide web, more specifically, on Facebook. If you pop by our page on Saturday 22/6/13 and Sunday 23/6/13 you’ll find plenty of stock at really amazing prices.

They’ll be discounted, some at cost. It’s a great opportunity to pick up a fantastic read at a low price, plus a chance to take a look at the stock that the TBYL Store has.

A couple of tips…

1. RSVP here, if you want to make sure that you don’t forget to come on over and take a look.

2. Mostly, regular postage will apply to sales but hey, why not buy a few books at a time and save on postage? Or share with a friend? Happy to help cut down postage charges where I can.

3. These prices are exclusive to Facebook only – if you shop at the online store, you’ll probably find the the prices are different. Any questions, just ask!

4. To purchase, comment SOLD and I’ll be in touch – we can arrange payment via paypal invoice or bank direct deposits.

Most importantly, remember that more often than not the books you’ll see in the TBYL Store have been reviewed by TBYL in the past. If you want to find out more about a title, just search the blog!

Finally, I’d like to introduce a new feature on the blog, that’ll make it easier to pick up copies of the books you like the sound of. Where you see this banner on the blog…

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… you’ll be able to click through to the book in store at the TBYL Store. Most of the time I can have the book in mail to you the next day, and if it’s going to take any longer than that, I’ll be sure to let you know.

I hope you’ll join in the fun this weekend, I’d love to send you something nice!

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Beautiful Take: One Good Friend Deserves Another

This week I’m trying to fit in lots of wonderful things… kids, work, reading and I’m getting ready for “Intrepid Month” to peak next week, as we discuss Chris Allen’s books in the TBYL Book Club and catch up with the author himself on Monday night (RSVP to this free, online event here).

giftPlus, I’m getting ready for a huge TBYL Book Clearance sale this weekend – which you can join in online all weekend on Facebook! Discounted books, some at cost, plus a few other goodies – first in best dressed!

I’ve also made sure I gave myself a little time out, and while taking a moment, I spent some time catching up on reviews from some of my favourite book bloggers. Today I was having a read of some reviews from the lovely Monique from Write Notes Reviews. As you know, I like to include different voices to TBYL, especially when they’re very talented ones and as such, I thought I’d feature one of Monique’s reviews on the blog today.

One Good Friend Deserves Another by Lisa Verge Higgins (Allen and Unwin) has been on my reading pile since February…

Dhara, Kelly, Marta, and Wendy have been the closest of friends since college. So close, that after a series of romantic disasters, they bond together to create Rules of Relationships to keep their hearts safe.

How many of these dating rules have you broken? 1. Choose Your Own Man 2. Make Sure Your Friends Approve 3. No One-Night Stands 4. Trust Your Instincts 5. Never Make the Same Mistake Twice 6. After a Break-Up, Wait Six Months Before Dating Again.

One good friend deserves another

Years later, the rules seem to have worked . . . until Marta discovers that her hot boyfriend is married, Kelly begins a risky love affair, Wendy inches closer to a pre-marital infidelity, and, most shocking of all, Indian-American Dhara suddenly agrees to an arranged marriage.

Hearts are about to be broken and the bonds of friendship are tested. Is it possible to find true love, when you’re breaking all the rules?

I didn’t have a chance to read it myself, but I think Monique has shared her thoughts on it beautifully…

During my adult life I’ve moved around a fair bit (four states) and books about close, long-standing friendships have at times filled the emotional gap created by leaving good friends behind, moving on and starting over. (My closest and oldest friend lives on the other side of the country and we only get to catch up in person for a couple of hours about once a year). After reading the book, I had to ask: do close-knit groups reallystay friends for decades or do they inevitably fade as circumstances change?…

You can read the full review here…

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You can find out more about Lisa’s book at the Allen and Unwin website and read more of Monique’s reviews here…

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Heart Like Mine

Thank goodness for the TBYL Reviewers – without them, I’d never be able to tell you about so many amazing books! I’m so lucky to have some wonderful people reading and reviewing for us, and today’s review is from the wonderful Carolyn Jones. Read on to find out more about Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany (Allen and Unwin) and about how you can enter to win a copy of your own…

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Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany (Allen and Unwin) shares the story of three woman, all very different from each other but connected nonetheless. There is Grace, 36 years old, a successful CEO and a woman comfortable in her decision to never have children of her own. Then there’s Kelli, a young single mother of two and the ex-wife of Grace’s fiancé. Finally, there is Kelli’s beloved daughter, Ava. Thirteen years old and completely devoted to her mother, Ava is desperate not to form a relationship with her father’s new partner. Very early in the story Kelli sadly and unexpectedly dies, meaning that Ava and her younger brother must live with their father and in turn, Grace. As you might expect, this sudden upheaval complicates the already strained relationship between Ava and her step-mother Grace.

Heart Like Mine alternates between narrating around the relationships shared by the three women and their overlapping stories, giving the reader a chance to see all sides of the difficult situation.

heart like mineI loved this book. I found it very easy to read but more importantly, I did not want to put it down. Amy Hatvany distinguishes the different narrators very clearly, with chapter headings and distinctive tones, whilst ensuring that the story flowed smoothly and never confusing the reader as to whose turn it was to tell their story. I don’t want to give too much away about what happens in the book as I enjoyed not knowing which way the story was going to take me. However, this is a book review, so I do need to provide something more to entice you to read this book…

There are some strong themes throughout the novel about womanhood, love and family. The age of thirteen is when a child becomes an adolescent and should be a time for greater independence, boyfriends and girlfriends, and discovering oneself. However, the three leading ladies in Heart Like Mine all encounter a life-changing event when they are thirteen. These individual events force these girls from early adolescence into adulthood much too young.

The main theme that Amy Hatvany explores is that of motherhood, from all perspectives; choosing to become a mother or having it thrust upon you unexpectedly…

She paused and gave me a dreamy smile. “But you really don’t know what love is until you’re a mother. You can’t understand it until you’ve had a baby yourself, but it’s the most intense feeling in the world.

I winced a little when she said this, as though she meant that a heart like mine was somehow defective because I hadn’t had children. I didn’t think of myself as less able to feel love. But her comments made me question myself and wonder if by missing out on motherhood, I was missing out on something that would make me a better person.

Grace, Kelli and Ava are incredibly strong women in their own right and through their narration we, the readers, feel their insecurities and share in their personal struggles to keep going through very tough times. I loved how Amy Hatvany developed these characters and didn’t dwell too much on clichés about stepmothers and daughters. I really believed their story. I highly recommend Heart Like Mine, whether you can identify with elements of it or reflect on your own growing up this book will stay with you for days. It’s a wonderful story, a drama of the challenges that comes with losing something too soon. If you take pleasure in a meaningful tale, or like me, love to weep in a book then I think you will enjoy Heart Like Mine.

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This month, a lucky reader will win a copy of Heart Like Mine courtesy of Allen & Unwin Books.

To enter, email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au, subject line ‘HEART’ and include your name and postal details. A winner will be chosen at random on 30.06.13 and notified by email.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany shop now at the TBYL Store…

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Mountain Chills: Dark Horse

As Murphy’s Law would have it, I was a bit under the weather this long weekend just gone. I offered my thanks to the kids for sharing their bugs, and got cozy on the couch. It’s winter after all, and under a blanket in the lounge room isn’t the worst place to be. Plus, there’s always a definite upside to being a bit laid-up… plenty of reading time!

The first book I enjoyed thrilled me silly. The moody, misty thriller Dark Horse, by Honey Brown (Penguin) had me sitting on the edge of my comfy couch.

dark horseFrom the first sentence, Dark Horse had me knocked off my feet…

“The blow put Sarah on the ground. That she was suddenly horizontal registered in her mind, then the pain came rushing through, washing over every other detail. A sigh escaped her lips and she lay motionless, struck dumb by the brute force of the hit. She tasted blood…”

I was hooked, and was immediately endeared to Sarah, a character who was clearly floundering at rock bottom…

“It’s Christmas morning on the edge of the rugged Mortimer Ranges. Sarah Barnard saddles Tansy, her black mare. She is heading for the bush, escaping the reality of her broken marriage and her bankrupted trail-riding business.



Sarah seeks solace in the ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she heads to higher ground, taking shelter in Hangman’s Hut.

 She settles in to wait out Christmas.



A man, a lone bushwalker, arrives. Heath is charming, capable, handsome. But his story doesn’t ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness without any gear? Where is his vehicle? What’s driving his resistance towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow.



But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger’s dangerous game of intimacy”

I felt sorry for her as she copped an earful from her father when she reneged on Christmas lunch, and I didn’t blame her when she packed her bag, saddled her horse, and set off for the bush. I knew that her plan would lead her into danger, but I could understand her decision completely, taking off into the mountains that day seemed to make perfect sense. At the time.

As Sarah and her horse Tansy proceeded into the mountains which surrounded her valley home, I was immersed in a scene of trails, gums and obstacles. For me, the picture painted to set this scene was a highlight of this well-constructed novel. As you’d expect from a thriller, Honey Brown creates a beautiful and oppressive moodiness with her descriptions of the mountains. It’s summer, but unseasonably wet, creating an unpredictability in the environment and in the story itself.

I love the mountains, the mist, fog and hush that falls over the hills when it’s wet, but the storm that hits Sarah and Tansy is a whole different beast…

“Night fell in a moment. It was only midday. Sarah pulled the hood of her coat over her cap. She tightened the drawstrings around her face. The clouds didn’t open so much as lower to the ground and pound the earth with water. Chicken Little was right: the sky had fallen. Sarah and Tansy continued up the track, water streaming down their bodies. Sarah was wet through to her skin. A veil of water ran off the peak of her cap. Her raincoat couldn’t be expected to hold up against this kind of onslaught.”

Drenched, tired  and hungry, Sarah makes it to Hangman’s Hut, sanctuary from the elements, and seemingly from civilisation. That is, until Heath arrives. With him, he brings mystery, fear, contradictions and desire. His mystery creates an unease for Sarah, but also an attraction. She hides her gun from him, she questions him and doubts him, but at the same time they settle effortlessly into a strange kind of domesticity – she manages the food, he builds the fire, they choose sides of a shared bed, and confide in each other, albeit selectively.

The attraction is electric and perfectly balanced with the suspense of the story. It ensures that the reader is left wondering, guessing right up until the very end…

“Sarah liked the reaction his body made as she raked her fingers down his legs. And she liked, too, the things he said, the way he seemed determined to make the moment special. The romance was sweet and reassuring. The sounds he made down in his chest were sexy. They got her breathing keenly too. They made her bolder.”

Their relationship is decadent and lusty, but also quite true. Still, given the many unanswered questions about Heath, it makes it hard to imagine the relationship ending well.

Now, I can’t say too much more about the mystery that unfolds as Sarah and Heath wait for rescue, I’d hate to spoil the ending for you. It twists and turns with nightmarish frequency and will probably have you worried for Sarah, falling for Heath and waiting for the sky to clear so both rescue and resolution can come.

What I will say is that I’d most definitely recommend Dark Horse as a great winter read, the sound of the rain on the roof will only add to the atmosphere of the novel. Don’t be scared, it’s a fascinating read.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Dark Horse, by Honey Brown shop now at the TBYL Store…

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Intrepid Month and the Ten Elements of a Cracking Thriller

As you know, I’m incredibly excited about Intrepid Month being held at TBYL during June. It’s a great chance for us to enjoy some real action-packed reading, from the exciting Chris Allen and his Intrepid series. You can find out more here… but essentially, you’re invited to read either one or both of Chris’ novels Defender, or Hunter and discuss them with us on Facebook, in the last week of June.

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There will also be a chance to chat with Chris on Monday, 24 June 2013, again on Facebook. You’ll find details of the event here… it’s free, online, and promises to be great fun!

As part of Intrepid month, I thought it might be interesting to find out what the man himself thinks goes into the making of a great action/adventure novel, and so today, from the desk of Chris Allen I bring you the Ten Elements of a Cracking Thriller…

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I’ve got to tell you how particularly chuffed I am that it’s Intrepid Month right now at That Book You Like.

The act of writing stories can be less than glamorous – it’s more endless cups of tea and crumbs piling up on the keyboard in a darkened room (aka my writing mancave) than back-to-back launches and book signings with pen poised and a glass of red by my side. So, an entire month that celebrates the fruits of my humble artistic toils through a group Book Club read and Facebook chat is very welcome indeed!

Those days when I am holed up in the mancave, churning out chapters of the latest Alex Morgan espionage adventure as fast as my clumsy two-finger typing skills can manage, I’m not consciously thinking about what makes a cracking thriller. It’s creating my own mix of preferred reading and viewing tastes, past experiences, a reasonable dash of instinct, and an intense need to extract the story from my head and get it onto the page. Then, of course everything is honed during the editing process with my publisher.

Once the books are put out into the world, there does seem – on reflection – to be some shared elements I recognise between my work and those of the other thriller writers I have grown up enjoying.

So, here’s ten elements of a cracking thriller that are important to me when crafting or getting into a new action & adventure yarn. I wonder if you enjoy these or different tactics when you’re getting into a story?

1. A plot that keeps you guessing
The plot has to keep you going at a micro and macro level. I like to write and read stories that keep the narrative moving ahead quickly. Before you know it, you’re well and truly committed to the story because the author has you hooked from the outset.

chris allen new2. Action that compels you to keep reading
You’ve got to need to keep the pages turning. When I hear that someone has missed their train stop or their bus because too busy reading what Alex Morgan is up to, then my job is done. I love to read books that can achieve that for me, too! The idea is to keep the forward movement of the action as relentless as possible. The reader should be almost out of breath at the end of a major action sequence.

3. Characters that you care about
This is something that I am exploring as I immerse myself into the Alex Morgan series. I’d like to let my readers know more about Morgan and other principle characters. There are many writers who are great at this in the action/adventure arena – including my favourites – Fleming, Conan Doyle, Maclean, Higgins, Cussler. Of course, including a little beguiling love interest in each story doesn’t harm the reading experience either.

4. Enough realism to make you wonder, enough escapism to help you forget  
I like stories that make you think, ‘maybe this has really happened’.  For instance, when I created the fictional agency Intrepid, I wanted to give it a sense of real world gravitas but setting it within Interpol, while adding the connection to other major international agencies such as the UN Security Council. In truth the two are not connected but it’s not a stretch to believe that they are, and it also adds a sense of scale to the grand narrative I’m constructing across the series.

5. Enjoyable the second time around
The proof is in the pudding when it comes to great books. You know, the ones that are your favourites because you keep going back to re-read them time and again? I have my favourite stories that I return to and in years to come, I hope to provide that experience for my own readers. Ideally, the aim is to have people enjoy it enough to put a copy on their bookshelf – which is an achievement in an age of eReaders.

6. Classic but contemporary
In my view, the more that an action writer can make something that’s been made a thousand times over seem new and fresh, then the closer you are to achieving that balance between classic and contemporary. Provide the reader with a familiar setting but give them completely new characters and stories to enjoy.

7. Not so much about mass carnage
One thing I’m learning – and it’s a significant lesson – is that readers need more from their characters than their plots. Movies can easily deal with carnage and death on a mass scale, but finding innovative ways for both protagonist and antagonist to outwit each other on the page – in the classic good vs evil struggle – is a complex process. Readers need to be stimulated to be engaged, otherwise they’ll just skipping over the pages until they find a bit that draws them back in. And, if that takes too long, you’ll lose them.

8. An ass-kicking pace
You’ve probably guessed by now, I love action stories. I grew up on them, I’ve read hundreds of them and now I write them. To me, the ultimate adventure is fast paced and furious from beginning to end, but that doesn’t have to just be about the action. The narrative overall must be the literary equivalent pushing a large boulder over the crest of a steep hill. Nothing is going to stop it as it gathers speed and momentum every inch of the way until it comes crashing to a stop at the base of the hill, leaving nothing but anticipation of more to come.

Hunter9. The power to take you places
As a boy my favourite writers transported me from Rossmoyne, our sleepy little corner of Perth, and with the flick of a page landed me on foreign shores in the midst of incredible adventures. I’ve always loved that about books because our imagination drives our experience of the story. It’s up to the author to provide you with the prompts and triggers to enhance that experience.

10. Flawed characters
We can’t all be perfect, and especially not our heroes. There needs to be some level of mystery and uncertainty about our protagonist. We expect the villains to be flawed but writers can focus too much on the baddies while keeping the hero on a pedestal.  I’ve become conscious of this as a writer. Heroes must be at their core, human beings and their lives, attitudes and actions need depth and context. If I can be as objective as possible, sometimes Alex Morgan is so firmly established in my mind’s eye, I have a tendency to allow the baddies live more on the page.  That’s all about to change in Avenger…

What are your thoughts? What’s important when you’re reading a story? I’ll be taking your questions in a live Facebook Chat on Monday 24 June from 7.30pm AEST so would love to get your feedback then. Or leave a comment below and we might reference and discuss it on the night!

Interested to get reading? Here’s how you can also get involved in the Book Club read, Defender & Hunter, for Intrepid month.

About the author:
While penning his Alex Morgan espionage series, Chris saw the world from under a parachute; made a difference in East Timor; protected Sydney’s iconic sails post 9/11; and most recently, held one of the most historic offices in Australia as Sheriff of NSW. Since self-publishing and being signed by Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint Momentum for a two-book deal, Defender and Hunter have wowed readers worldwide, with Avenger due out soon and a film/TV franchise underway.

You can say g’day to Chris at www.facebook.com/intrepidallen or www.twitter.com/intrepidallen, and Chris blogs about all things thriller as well as indulging his love of cult TV shows and movies at www.intrepidallen.com/blog.

Buy Defender eBook on Amazon: http://buff.ly/16PjHQr 
Buy Hunter eBook on Amazon: http://buff.ly/185ZENL 

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Victorian raunch: Tangled Reins

This week TBYL Reviewer Carolyn Jones has been enjoying a bit of raunch in high society, with Tangled Reins, by Stephanie Laurens (Harlequin)…

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I love a bit a raunch in the books I read. I also love Victorian Literature so when I picked up Tangled Reins by Stephanie Laurens, I was more than a little bit excited  – I was pretty sure this book would deliver both. However, to my surprise, I found that there was much more to this story than ripped bodices and beautifully spoken English, and I was very happy to sit back and let Stephanie Laurens take the reins and lead me on a journey through high society of Regency England.

Tangled ReinsMiss Dorothea Darent had no intention of ever getting married – until a dashing stranger with hazel eyes kissed her under a blackberry tree.

Haunted by their kiss, the Marquis of Hazelmere – a notorious scoundrel – was determined to win Dorothea’s heart while she dazzled London socialites. Amidst shocked whispers, he swept Dorothea into her first waltz and sparked the jealous plots of lesser suitors.

Now Dorothea had a choice to make: stick with her plan to stay a respectable spinster, or run into the arms of her dashing stranger…

Nineteenth century England was a time of excess for the aristocracy.  Ruled by the Prince Regent (the future George IV) the young upper class society wiled away the season in high fashion, attending extravagant balls all while trying to attract their most suitable match to prepare them for the rest of their lives.

Tangled Reins is a romance novel and as you might expect, when we meet the two main characters their instant attraction can be felt immediately. The female lead Dorothea, an independent heiress who has reached the ripe old age of 22, is considered to be too old to find a husband (a fact which she doesn’t seem to mind too much).  From the beginning of the novel we understand that Dorothea is an intelligent woman and is perfectly happy in her spinsterhood.  That is until she is literally swept into a blackberry bush and into the seductive arms of the Marquis de Hazelmere.

“Horrified, she felt a sudden warmth rush through her, followed by an almost overwhelming urge to lean into that embrace, clearly poised to become even more passionate if she succumbed. No country admirer had dared kiss her like this!”

regencyInterestingly this novel lacks a strong male competitor for Dorothea’s affection, a character that we would find in most romance literature.  Instead the author drives the romance forward by painting a picture of the mystery and intrigue of why Dorothea and Hazelmere cannot be together.  While I was reading, I kept wondering why they were holding back and then, had to remind myself that although Stephanie Laurens romance is racier than traditional Victorian literature, her story is still set about 200 years ago when single folk had rules to follow in order to maintain their reputation.  The mere idea of pre-marital sex would cause scandal and alarm for readers of the period. For us though, reading about such scandalous behaviour actually happening in Regency England adds a little bit of spice to the novel.

“His response was all she could have wished.  Turning her slightly, Hazelmere swiftly bent his head to drop the most delicate of kisses on her lips.  As he raised his head her eyes opened wide. For one long moment they remained perfectly still, the hazel and green gazes fusing in the moonlight…With infinite care he started her sensual education, his caresses deepening in imperceptible degrees so that her sense were never overwhelmed, but taught, step by steady step, to savour the exquisite delight he created.  His control was absolute and Dorothea, enfolded in his care, for the first time in her life, willingly let go of the reins.”

Stephanie Laurens is a modern day author who has chosen to become an historical romantic novelist.  In her story, Regent England has become Stephanie’s third main character to great effect.  If I could travel back in time, this is where I would program the time machine to take me.  Of course I would need to have the money and status to attend some of these spectacular parties. I would love the elaborate gowns and I’m sure that from all the period dramas I have read and seen on the television I would speak as eloquently as the English – I’d fit in quite well!  The parties, the rides in the park and the fashions are so wonderful to read about that it’s easy to lose oneself in the frivolous ways of the rich. Reading Tangled Reins I was imagining a life of endless money, parties to attend, dreaming to be as attractive as Dorothea. I’d like to think how great I could be if only I could get the time machine working!

Dorothea, our heroine is a very likeable character.  From the outset she claims the only reason she would change her present state would be love… she is content without a ring on her finger.  She is a very strong woman and can master her composure with ease.  She plays hard to get because she wants to be sure that her suitor’s feelings are real. She is independent both in persona and financial status and so is in the fortunate position where she doesn’t have to find a husband to maintain her standard of living.  These attributes only add to her likeability, she’s a character who proves that you don’t need a man to be happy.

Stephanie’s other main character, Hazelmere, is also very agreeable.  The author tells the story through his eyes at times, an unusual choice for a romance novel such as this, especially one set in Victorian England where the male protagonists are typically dark and mysterious.

The attraction between Hazelmere and Dorothea is intense and Laurens illustrates this by describing their eyes; Dorothea’s oversized green eyes and the Marquis’ twinkling hazel set.  I’d have to say that this is one of the areas that could have been improved on – it seemed that both characters’ physical attributes paled in comparison to their orbs.  There are only so may ways in which a writer can describe two people looking at each other and Laurens captures this over and over again and in the same way, perhaps a few too many times!

Tangled Reins is a very easy read, light and romantic, and laden with sexual innuendos.  Rest assured, there are more explicit scenes than other novels written in the time that this book was set, making it more relevant for the modern day reader whilst still capturing the period nicely. The love-struck couple are very well matched both intellectually and physically and so the reader embarks on a time in history where romance is made all the more exciting when one has to compete with other suitors, handle abduction scares and deal with gossip about the sizzling chemistry between the two main characters.  Stephanie Laurens has written several novels set in this time and I think she has done her research well.  I don’t think I will race back to read all of her books, however, if I was on holiday and one of her books came my way, I wouldn’t pass it up.  If historical romances are your favourite genre then I think you will find Tangled Reins well worth a read.

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You can find out more about Tangled Reins, by Stephanie Laurens here…

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Good company: The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society

As I said last week, because Tam is such an avid scrapbooker, I thought it only sensible to have her review The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee (Allen and Unwin) I figured she’d understand the language, the comradery of this book and of course, she did. By all accounts, Tam really enjoyed this novel and interestingly, it sounds like scrapbooking was simply the catalyst for gathering. It was the woman, and their strengths and struggles that keep bringing them back into each others company.

Here’s what Tam thought of this novel…

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The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee is an extremely busy book, with loads of characters introduced all at once, all of whom are living their separate lives with their separate dramas and troubles. It’s this large cast of characters that makes this such a clever book, in how it brings all these individuals together, to get to know each other in the small town of Avalon.

the avalon ladies scrapbooking societyAt Madeline’s Tea Salon, the cozy hub of the Avalon community, six women find their memories are shaping their future.

Young Connie Colls, fiercly independant and full of promise longs for a past she never had. Isabel Kidd is anxious to move forward but is still paralysed by the consequences of her late husband’s love affair. After spending many years living a life on her own terms, Yvonne Tate finds that she can’t outwit her past. For Ava Catalina, reaching out to hold on to precious memories means rekindling old hurts while Frances Latham sees her dreams for a daughter dashed when tragedy strikes. And then there’s irascible Bettie Shelton, founder and president of the Avalon Scrapbooking Society, who helps others create lasting memories of their past but finds the paes of her own albums empty.

As the women gather to scrapbook the details of their lives, they discover that things are not always as they seem.

This story centres around Bettie, Isabel, Frances, Yvonne, Ava, Connie and Madeline – all very different people who would have little reason to get along in any other context, but come together to scrapbook.  In fact as this novel begins many of the women don’t actually like each other very much. As this story develops we are introduced to their private and mostly complicated histories and women begin to find strength within each other and form beautiful friendships.

Throughout the novel, Bettie Shelton is the one constant. She is the founder and President of the scrapbooking society and it comes to light that she is also enduring her own private tragedy. Bettie loses all her scrapbooks and it is through this sad event that it comes to light just how integral a part of the community Bettie has become, as they rally together to rebuild her memories.

As an avid scrapbooker myself I found comfort and inspiration in this story. Much of the message behind this story is about embracing your past, treasuring your memories and recording these memories in a way for your loved ones to be able to hold on to for many years to come. They may even be able to learn more about your past and indeed their own past than they would have otherwise. I have always found scrapbooking therapeutic, and there is a great emphasis on this in the book. The craft is a great way to reflect, to realise the positives, heal the negatives and to cope through the hard times. It’s not just about photos (as so often thought) but also about documentation, a collection of brochures, menus, journaling, pictures painted with words. Such a beautiful legacy to leave for your family. This theme of legacy runs throughout  The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society sharing with us a story of trouble, healing and friendship.

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Thanks to Allen and Unwin, I’ve had three copies of The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society to give away! Entries closed yesterday at midnight and the three winners (chosen at random) are S. Odongo, A. Lee and F. Garrivan.  Congratulations, and keep an eye on your emails for message from me this evening.

To find out more about Darien Gee’s novel, you can do so here…

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