Hide and Seek: The Shadow Tracer

Today I’m pleased to be able to welcome a brand new TBYL Reviewer to the team, Narelle Connell.  Narelle is a fellow book worm, and I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of the many books I’m going to send her way. Today she’s reviewing Meg Gardiner’s The Shadow Tracer (Penguin) a thriller, penned by ‘the next suspense superstar’ according to Stephen King (quite an endorsement, yes?)

Here’s what Narelle thought of this wild ride of a novel…

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shadow tracerWhen someone wants to find you badly enough, vanishing is no longer an option.

Sarah Keller is a young single mother living in Oklahoma with her five year-old daughter, Zoe. Her day job is to hunt out people on the run and bring them to justice. So imagine how it looks when a school bus accident sends Zoe to the ER and tests reveal Sarah can’t be Zoe’s mother.

Sarah has been living a lie for years and finally the truth is coming out. Who is she? Who were Zoe’s parents? And why does Zoe’s identity bring the FBI down on Sarah’s tail in mere minutes?

The FBI is the least of her worries, though. Sarah needs to keep Zoe off the grid, but with a sinister religious cult also preparing to attack, where on earth can they hide?

Something deadly lurks in Sarah’s past and its resurrection brings terror to all it touches.

Straight away, I was hooked by the premise of The Shadow Tracer, a fast-paced and intricately crafted thriller that focuses on Sarah Keller, a woman on the run with five year Zoe in tow. Sarah has spent the last five years raising Zoe on her own, making a living as a skip tracer tracking down people who don’t want to be found. Over time, Sarah has learned to lead a quiet life that draws no unwanted attention to herself and Zoe.

But, all this is shattered when Zoe’s involvement in an accident leads to information that threatens to reveal both their true identities and sets in motion a chain of events involving the FBI and a religious cult that is hell bent on finding Zoe and destroying anyone who gets in their way.

From the beginning I was both empathetic to and intrigued by Sarah’s character, wanting to find out more about the events that led Zoe to her and sent her into hiding. Gardiner takes the reader along on a rollicking ride through Texas and New Mexico as Sarah and Zoe become fugitives. Along the way, they encounter an FBI agent with his own reasons for wanting vengeance, a nun with some unusual skill sets and a US Marshal prepared to flout the rules.

The action and plot move almost as quickly as Sarah does across the desert, making this book a page-turner I was eager to keep reading until the end. I was especially intrigued by Sarah’s efforts to leave no trace behind and the methods she uses, contrasted with the underhand efforts of those on her tail to track her and Zoe down. Although the novel’s main focus is on the action, through her relationship with and fierce protection of Zoe we see a softer side to Sarah that keeps the reader hoping she can stay one step ahead.

texas“When Beth died, Sarah had thought nothing could be worse. How wrong she’d been. 

The sun glared white in the windshield. The highway arrowed to the vanishing point on a horizon of wind-bent grass. She wiped away tears with the heel of her hand.

Disappearing was possible. Look at the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Those posters of sullen criminals showed men and women who had vanished. Some of them had been on the run for twenty years. If they could do it, so could she. 

That’s what he’d told her. Get out of here. Run. Hide. 

Five years earlier she’d done exactly that. Now she was doing it again. She blew past a road sign. WELCOME TO TEXAS, THE LONE STAR STATE. ” 

With surprising plot twists, well crafted characters and a heart-racing showdown, I thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow Tracer and definitely recommend it.

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Find out more about Meg Gardiner’s The Shadow Tracer here…

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Encouragement: Actually, I Can

Today’s book is one I’ve been looking forward to for some time – it’s the much anticipated Actually, I Can from Nicky Johnston (Rough Draft).

actually i canNicky’s first two books Go Away Mr Worrythoughts and Happythoughts are Everywhere are amongst my favourite books for kids, and Nicky’s work with kids working through anxiety is priceless. We were really lucky to have Nicky join us for one of the TBYL Events earlier in the year (you can read about it here) and I’ve been eager to find out what she had next up her sleeve to help with the little worriers in our lives.

Actually, I Can is the story of Connor and Amelia. Connor, a little worrier, is afraid to try many of the things that Amelia takes in her stride. She encourages him to be brave and give things ago, and although it takes him a little while to let go of his fear, he does with her encouragement eventually put his anxiety aside and realise that actually, he can.

It’s a positive message, easy relatable and of course accompanied by Nicky’s gorgeous illustrations. The books is both easily comprehended by children, and enjoyable for adults to read.

Personally, there are two things that I love about this books. The first is that it is refreshingly realistic. It acknowledges that not all kids are frightened all of the time, and likewise, not all kids are brave in ever circumstance. Connor and Amelia, adorable characters, take it in turns to support and encourage each other, resulting in them both being able to have a wonderful day out together!

The second thing that I love about this book is that the lesson is an important one for kids and adults alike. I’m sure I’m not alone in being held back by anxiety and fear at times, and as I read this book to Oscar, it is a reminder that I should resist ‘paralysis through fear’, if for no other reason than to teach my own kids to do the same.

I was intrigued to find out a little more about Actually, I Can and asked Nicky a few questions last week…

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This is a similar but new story to your previous books… could you tell us about the inspiration behind this story?
I am often asked by parents of ‘little worriers’ how to handle their child’s constant ‘what if’ questions. I encourage parents to challenge these thoughts, prompting their child to answer their own questions – of course the answers can have either a negative or positive outcome, depending on what their thoughts are at the time.

 ‘Change your thoughts to change your feelings’ was my inspirational statement for Actually, I Can, demonstrating that Connor actually can have some fun, once he began answering his what if questions in a positive way.

Are you planning to work this book into your school talks and productions at all?
I love all school visit opportunities and the theme of my books work perfectly throughout my presentations. We all have ‘what if’ questions, and worry thoughts, and by sharing my own journey of writing and illustrating, I am able to help children learn ways they too can build their resilience to things as well as maintaining a positive outlook on their world, all while inspiring them to consider their own writing and illustrating skills.

With the theatrical production of Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts being so well received in primary schools, I would love to see Actually, I Can also become transformed into an additional theatrical production. Discussions and ideas have already begun with the many creative people I have worked with Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts production. There is so much possibility and potential for this to develop in the future, I am reaching for the stars and aiming high!

Your illustrations in this new book are beautiful, how much time did you take putting this new set of works together?
I really wanted my illustrations of Actually, I Can to be a different style from those of my first two books. The recent illustrations took much longer in their design and creation than my previous books, taking me almost 8 months to complete. I enjoyed creating them all and I even have a few favourites too, which is quite unusual for me. There were many illustrations that didn’t make it into the book and I love sharing this insight with children during my school visits.

What’s the take home message of ‘Actually, I Can’?
When you change your thoughts from fear to belief, the way you feel and the outcome will always seem better. It is amazing what you can achieve when you actually let go of your fears, believe in yourself and just have a go. The skill of learning to ‘let go’ is a great concept for children, and with practice this can become an easy way to live, it gets harder as we grow into adults as our thought patterns are far more set in concrete – but even then it is always still possible to learn.

 

What’s the feedback been like so far?
I have been quite overwhelmed with the feedback since the release of Actually, I Can beginning of August. Parents, teachers, children and reviewers have all been extremely glowing in their comments and feedback.

Here are just a few messages I have received…

‘Beautifully written and illustrated’

‘Gorgeous, heartfelt, life changing are three words that aptly describe Nicky’s books’

‘Thank you for giving us another bedtime favourite book’.

The two young characters are lovely, do you have any future plans for them?
Both Amelia and Connor have become characters that children have already become quite taken with.

I love their opposite personality characteristics, yet understanding and admiration for each other.

There is definitely another adventure of Connor and Amelia that will be told in the future, so, be sure to keep an eye out for another children’s book with an even greater insight into how well these children know each other and grow together.

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You can find out more about Nicky and her books at the Happy Hero website.

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Foundations: Warrior Princess

Today, Carolyn finds out more about what it takes to be a real-life warrior princess…

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Do you like autobiographies? Are you inspired by personal memoirs? If you answered Yes to either of these questions then I think Warrior Princess by Mindy Budgor (Allen and Unwin) should be the next book on top of your reading pile!

warrior princess

Warrior Princess tells Mindy’s story, in particular, her quest to become one of the first female Maasai warriors. One of forty-two Kenyan tribes that have upheld ancient cultural ways to this day, Maasai tribesmen are world renowned warriors, and Mindy makes it her mission to learn more about them.

Mindy is a young Californian entrepreneur looking for a change from the Western corporate world, when she comes across an opportunity to volunteer in Kenya. During her visit she becomes mesmerised by the Maasai tribal leaders and their ways of life. This meeting has her looking at her own life and material needs and during her last night in Kenya she asks the leader about the roles of females in their culture. She is told that women are not strong enough or brave enough to be allowed to become warriors. This answer lights a fire within Mindy, inspiring her to try and make a change to the role of tribal women.

I instantly liked Mindy. She is clever and funny and writes as if she is talking just to you. Mindy needs to have her family’s blessing before she can embark on her journey, and this proves to be her first hurdle. Reading about what she does to get their blessing, and get to Africa was very entertaining. She has a very clever way of manipulating the truth whilst never doing anything to harm anyone.

Mindy returns to Kenya, where she ploughs head-first into her quest to join the group of non-English speaking men. She describes the hard work, her distaste of some of the traditions of the Maasai and whilst reading, you feel it all with her.

Not everything Mindy experiences is hard work, she easily finds a perfect American travelling partner as well as the right guide to take them into the jungle and straight through the rites of passage of a Maasai tribe. I’m not sure if these two achievements were really as easy as they seemed or whether it is just Mindy’s optimistic nature that made it appear that way. Either way it was great to read about things going to plan. She was determined to make the trek and getting there seemed quite smooth compared with the day-to-day activities of becoming one of the first female Maasai warriors.

I guess it depends on the type of person you are, but I was quite happy to experience Mindy’s journey through her writing rather than actually undertaking a similar trek through the African wilderness. I appreciated Mindy’s vivid descriptions of her time in the jungle. She made it clear why she had to embark on this journey and I’m so glad she penned her experience for others to enjoy.

“Topoika eyed me, and I knew he wanted me to jump, but I didn’t want to look like an ass. I would be lucky if I could heave myself up more than three inches off the ground. I continued on as a backup singer while Magilu sang and Maani jumped.

The singing and jumping continued in full force for at least another thirty minutes. My body and soul were owned by the music. Feeling as if the group was coming to life and telling me to jump, I replayed the step-by-step muscular movement and went for it. My knees bent and my legs reacted, allowing me to soar in the air. As my feet hit the ground, the earth and I exchanged energy while billows of dust formed around my boots. I was part of the dance, and the dance was part of me. And while I was only airborne for a moment, for that brief moment my inner warrior was leaping out of me. It gave me faith that I was on the right path”.

Mindy is now a Maasai warrior as well as an official member of the tribe. She has assisted in laying the foundations to having the law changed in Africa allowing women the right to become warriors. This law is due to be changed in 2016. Mindy is inspirational. She is very open about her personal failings and over time demonstrates what she has learnt from the Maasai. These ancient core values make sense of how to conduct oneself in the modern world. Warrior Princess is not the kind of book that I am normally drawn to however, I did enjoy it. It is an easy read and a wonderful account of a young woman finding her calling in life. Reading this may inspire you to take a leap of faith like Mindy did and listen to your inner voice and be rewarded for doing so in the end.

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You can find out more about Warrior Princess by Mindy Budgor here…

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Meeting Kate Forsyth

On Monday night, we held our second online TBYL Event at which we meet the lovely Kate Forsyth. Kate joined us on Facebook, where we were able to enjoy her insightful answers to our fast-firing questions.

In case you weren’t able to tune in on the night, here’s a transcript of our chat with Kate, about her, about her writing, and about her latest novel The Wild Girl

TBYL: Welcome everyone! I wanted to start with something that’s perhaps a little obvious, but interesting… what drew you to fairy tales in such a way Kate?

kate forsythKate: I’ve been fascinated by fairy tales ever since I was a little girl in hospital and my mother brought me a copy of ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. I was a very sick little munchkin and there was not much escape for me except through the pages of books. I particularly loved tales of adventure and magic and transformation – stories that took me away from my hospital bed and let me do all the things I could not do – run and fly and gallop on horseback and travel to strange and wonderful lands and have strange and wonderful adventures. I particularly loved the fairy tales, I think, because they are stories of triumph, transformation and true love, and so speak to our secret longings and desires. I wanted to be free, I wanted to be well, I wanted to be safe home and in the arms of those who loved me, and that’s what fairy tales promise us.

TBYL: That’s so true Kate, I can completely relate. My love of books started when I was laid up as a kid with pretty nasty asthma. Did you have a particular favourite, either then or now?

Kate: I have quite a few. ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Six Swans’, ‘Beauty & the Beast’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’, ‘The Snow Queen’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, plus many lesser known ones. I love Romany tales, and wove quite a few into my children’s historical adventure THE GYPSY CROWN. I love Scottish fairy tales as well, and drew upon Scottish folklore in my children’s time travel adventure THE PUZZLE RING. Many of my other books draw upon fairy tale and folklore as well – its what I love to do.

TBYL: I’ve seen quite a few films lately that try and do the same thing. Do you enjoy that type of adaption too, or do you prefer it on the page?

Kate: I always prefer it on the page! I so love films too, but a novel is my favourite thing in the world.

TBYL: Kate, could you please tell us a little bit about your research process? It’s clearly very thorough…

Kate: I love to research. I do it with total commitment, even obsessiveness. I want to know EVERYTHING! I’ll read anything and everything I can find on the subject, and search out lost letters and diaries and books, hoping for that elusive lost secret, that hidden fact that will make my novel come to life. It often takes me a very long time, but I’m happy and content as long as I know it will help the novel. To write The Wild Girl, I read up on the lives and works of the Grimm brothers, I studied the Napoleonic Code, I found out how laudanum was made (I could make you some right now if I had a lump of raw opium and some brandy), I found out how 19th century women made soap out of their own urine and ashes from the kitchen fire, and I cooked bread soup from my family, using an old German recipe (its surprisingly tasty).

TBYL: Would you tell us how to make bread soup? I was wondering the whole way through the book!

Kate: I’ll post the recipe on my blog for you – its very simple!

TBYL: Did you have to travel at all for your research or was it mostly done from home?

Kate: Oh no, I always travel. I feel it’s so important! I went to Cassel (now spelt with a K) and to the Grimm museum and the palace – amazing! I like to breathe the air, touch the earth, feel the cold, imagine myself into the place…

TBYL Reader (Jason): Did you have any additional scenes/chapters that were cut for the final edit… say subplots or something that did not make it in the end?

Kate: Oh yes… I thought Jakob might have been gay and I had a few scenes that intimated so… but the novel got too long and I thought I should focus on Wilhelm and Dortchen. I also cut out about 25,000 more words about Dortchen’s childhood.

TBYL Reader (Jason): Do you find making these cuts difficult or is it simply a case of stick to the main story and they either add or distract from the overall clarity of the storytelling?

the wild girlKate: It always hurts but then I know the book is better for the cuts, and sometimes you need to write and write and write to find your story – but end the all that writing is now not necessary.

TBYL: I was fascinated by Dortchen and found myself feeling so sorry for her, whilst at the same time being impressed by her competence and bravery. Did you mean for her to be a heroine in the way that she is?

Kate: Of course! I felt a very strong connection to Dortchen from the moment I read about her. Her birthday is only a week before mine – we’re both Geminis. I thought all the time what it would be like – to be a young woman and not permitted to work, to travel, to love as you please – to live under your father’s domination all the time.

Her life was full of everything I love in a story – romance, tragedy, passion, struggle, and, finally, triumph. Plus, of course, the fairy tales. I never knew that so many of my favourite fairy tales had been told to the Grimm brothers by this one young woman. I was fascinated by her and her tales, and I wanted to rescue her from oblivion. I think we’d have been kindred spirits if we’d grown up next door to each other.

TBYL: How did you first hear of Dortchen?

Kate: I first read about Wilhelm and Dortchen’s romance in Clever Maids: A Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Dr Valerie Paradiz, which examines the oral sources of the famous tales. Dortchen’s considerable contribution was analysed, along with many others, and then – in the final chapter – it was mentioned that eventually Wilhelm and Dortchen married. As soon as I read about Dortchen and Wilhelm, I knew I had to write a novel about them. I was utterly electrified by the heartbreaking beauty and romance of their love affair and by the stories she told.

TBYL: One more about character from me and then I’ll hand it over to others… As much as I was fascinated by Dortchen, I was equally horrified by her father. I was also very confused by him. How do you go about painting such a terrible, conflicted character?

Kate: Well, it’s never easy. I struggled with what Dortchen’s tales were telling me. I didn’t want the story to go into quite such a dark place. I had to be true to the inner life of the stories, though. Nothing else made sense. Once I decided to build the story in that way, I tried to write those scenes as quickly as possible, so I could exorcise them from my imagination. I had terrible nightmares. I’d wake in the dead of night, unable to breathe, unable to make a sound, feeling the weight of it crushing me to death. It was never easy. I felt I had to write it away, write myself free, and that is what Dortchen does… though her stories are told, not written. She told stories to save herself, and that utterly pierced my heart.

TBYL: Were Dortchen’s nightmares your nightmares?

Kate: Yes. They were. Strange, I know.

TBYL: Shows an incredible investment into the story. The descriptions of Herr Wild, his clothes, his scent were horribly vivid…

Kate: Horrible is the right word. I felt it, smelt it, suffered it… I don’t know how else you can bring it to life.

TBYL: I think I was lucky that he didn’t not remind me of anyone I knew, otherwise I think I would have found it near on impossible to read a few of the more barbaric scenes!

Kate: I know a few people who found those scenes very difficult (as did I!), but then also found Dortchen’s healing and recovery so beautiful and powerful.

TBYL: Absolutely! I loved the rituals that she used to heal herself. Were these based on your research?

singing larkKate: Oh yes. It took me a long time to work out these scenes. I knew I needed her to go to Old Marie, I knew it had to be to do with the earth, and with old German superstitions. I knew it had to do with cleansing and exorcism because of my own dreams.

TBYL: It was such a relief as a reader when she finally confided in Old Marie…

Kate: In fairy tales, there is often a magical helper who the hero fails to listen to and only when the hero learns to listen does the hero learn wisdom and so triumphs – Old Marie was my magical helper.

TBYL Reader (Kateness): Hello Kate, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions on your work. I am wondering if there are any other tangents of Dorchen’s story that you feel like you might like to go back and explore some more? Are you ever tempted to go back and write the story of another character you’ve met along the way?

Kate: Kateness, I always come up with other ideas of novels when I’m writing – for example, I loved Bettina von Arnim and thought what a fascinating character she’d make… but I feel I’ve done that now, I’ve done that era and that circle of friends and I want to move on now.

TBYL Reader (Barbara): Picking up, in some way Jason’s questions, have you “finished” with Dortchen and the Grimm’s now or do you imagine writing more that picks up their story? Also have you started on a new project?

Kate: Barbara, I’m always working on a new project! So many ideas, so little time!

TBYL: Can you tell us a little about your other work Kate? I’m pretty new to your collection, and I’d like to know where you think I should go next?

Kate: I’d try BITTER GREENS next. It’s a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’, interwoven with the dramatic, true life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century noblewoman Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It’s full of romance, passion, obsession, betrayal, and ultimate triumph – I think you’d enjoy it.

TBYL: I’ll ask my final question for the evening. It might be a bit predictable, but Kate, do you think that you’ll keep writing your fairy tale revisits? What do you have planned next?

Kate: At the moment I’m writing a five-book fantasy adventure series for kids (I tend to alternate between adult and children’s books). Then I plan to rewrite one of Dortchen’s tales, ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ (a Beauty and the Beast-variant), setting the novel in Nazi Germany. That will be another intense, dark, soul-shaking book, but extraordinary to research and write.

At this stage we called it a night, having typed our fingers to the bone. I hope you’ll agree, this Q&A session was a fantastic way to get to know Kate a little bit better, and I can’t wait to read more of her books.

If you’d like to find out more about Kate’s novel, you can visit her website here…

A big thank-you to Kate and to all the TBYL readers who got involved in this event.

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On the Land: Redstone Station

TBYL Reviewer, Tam J can’t seem to get enough of rural literature. Here’s her thoughts on the latest…

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Redstone Station (Allen and Unwin) is the debut novel by Therese Creed. Originally from Sydney, Therese moved to a farm in rural Queensland for love. She now helps run a 17,000 acre cattle station with her husband, an undertaking which has clearly inspired this novel, offering the reader a glimpse of the real-life dealings on the farm and putting them in a compelling story.

redstone stationAlice is happy to be returning home to Redstone Station after two years at Agriculture College. During various placements at farms and stations during her time at college she was shocked at the second-class status of women workers, whereas her grandfather, Sam, who owns Redstone, has always treated her as an equal.

For his part, Sam is delighted to have his granddaughter back on board. In shaping Alice he tried to avoid the mistakes he’d made with her mother, Lara, and she has lived up to his high expectations, graduating from Ag College with flying colours. He now sees Alice as his last chance to preserve his beloved station and successfully take it into the future.

Exceptionally hard-working, with great horsemanship, an instinctive understanding of animals and a natural aptitude for farming, Alice is determined to justify her grandfather’s faith in her. But will her budding regard for one of the stockmen throw her, and the future of Redstone, off track?

When we first meet Alice, she is an 18 year old girl fresh from Ag College. She is full of ideas as to how t improve the profitability of the now struggling cattle station, but she first has to convince her old-school farming Grandfather, Sam.

Sam is getting older and realises that they need some new help on the farm, and as a result they take a chance with the town clown, Jeremy. Jeremy appears to be the best of a bad bunch, however he fits in beautifully and brings new life to this farming family and Redstone Station. He also turns out to be a wonderful companion for Alice. This was perhaps one of my favourite things about this story, watching the beautiful friendship that these two developed quickly.

I did find it a little hard to see Alice as just a young adult. Her character’s voice seemed older, but perhaps this is just due to the fact that Alice had to grow up fast, when she was abandoned by her unwed mother and left with her grandparents Sam and Olive.

I liked Alice, but larrikin Jeremy was my favourite character by far, and I found myself wanting to be able to take care of him.

The author paints a detailed picture of the life and trials of farm life. Fighting fires, drought and other seasonal stresses, the constant job of fixing fences, keeping wild predators at bay, weaning cattle and the ongoing financial battle.  The characters are faced with life changing loss, friendship, racial tension, love and misunderstandings. Despite all these challenges, they are really only looking to be accepted and respected.

I did find this story a little slow in some parts, and felt that the end of the story dragged out a little. I was feeling anxious that there was not going to be a complete conclusion, but in the end Therese’s novel was resolved quite well, even if after a bit of length, it did seem to finish quite quickly.

It was a lovely story and it was refreshing to read a story that was set locally, with a climate and characters that were easy to relate to.

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If you’d like to find out more about Redstone Station by Therese Creed, visit A&U here…

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Tragedy: The Son-in-Law

Today’s post is a true triple-threat! One part review, one part author-interview and a give-away to sweeten the deal. Here’s what Carolyn thought of Charity Norman’s The Son-In-Law (Allen and Unwin)…

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“My mother used to say her wedding day was like a fairytale. It was a blue and gold morning, and a million daffodils rippled beneath the city walls. She and my father were young, beautiful and crazy about each other. 

Son-in-Law‘Don’t let people tell you love isn’t like in the films, Scarlet,’ she said. It was one of those moments when she seemed to be surfing right on top of a foaming, frothing wave of happiness…

She gave a little laugh, humming along to the jazz music she had playing on the stereo… For some reason, that evening is one of my clearest memories of Mum. She smelled of well, of Mum; her special sandalwood scent, and coffee and maybe wine. I’ve got one of her soft cardigans under my bed, and it still smells like her. If I press my face into it and shut my eyes, I can pretend it is her.”

The Son-In-Law is the latest novel by rising-star Charity Norman, and it tells the story of a family torn apart by a tragic episode, changing the course of the lives of three very young children.  The transcript of a 999 call made by a ten year old girl opens the book – the account is very real and immediately had the hairs on my arm standing on end. I read the transcript again because I couldn’t believe where I was about to taken by this beautiful and powerful novel, a story that will stay with me for a very long time.

This is a story told from three points of view. The first being Joseph who kills his wife in the presence of his three young children; his oldest child Scarlet and their Grandmother Hannah who, with her husband become the primary caregivers to their grandchildren after this tragic event.  Each narrator gives the reader a different perspective on the death of Zoe, a beautiful and charismatic wife, mother and daughter and on how they manage to carry on after such a sudden loss in their lives.

“I didn’t sleep that night. Not until three in the morning, anyway. I didn’t sleep the next night either, or the one after that, or any night in the days leading up to the court hearing. I felt more and more tired, but at the same time twitchy and tangled up.”

Before turning her skills to writing, Charity Norman practised as a high-powered barrister specialising in family law.  This, combined with a colourful upbringing, has allowed her to draw on personal experiences, delving into issues of mental health, domestic violence and the devastating results these factors can have on families.

From the very outset of the story you know that you will be faced with difficult dilemmas when deciding what is right for each character. I found myself loving each person no matter how self-centred their motives seemed to be.  The adult narrators in the story are at opposite ends of the argument, pulling Scarlet and her younger brothers from one side to the other.  This pull naturally causes guilt in the young characters thus leading to disturbed behaviours and actions which made me, the reader feel incredibly sad for them.  As much as I loved the adult characters, their selfishness is blinding and gets in the way, making them forget about what is right for the children. This is a central theme throughout this book, asking questions about what is the right and best outcome for this family?

“I wasn’t in a cheerful mood as we drove away. Far from it.  I looked back as we turned out of Faith Lane, and I could see two lost souls standing on the pavement. They were holding hands, which was something they never used to do in public. I felt so guilty. I wanted Dad to turn the car around and take us back.”

The Son-In-Law has secondary characters who through kindness and wisdom offer support to this family. Their opinions are put forward in the form of letters and court transcripts providing a depth to this story. I personally have not had to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude and it only made me more grateful to the people who dedicate their lives to helping others through the family courts.

I can highly recommend this book to you.  It had me sitting up until early hours of the morning because I needed to know the outcome for these powerful characters.  Whilst I cried for three quarters of the book (something that I secretly enjoy) Charity Norman gave me hope that life can take a different course and carry on beautifully for people who encounter such a traumatic road block in their early lives.

I was fortunate enough to be able to ask a few questions of Charity Norman…

Before you wrote The Son-In-Law, I understand that you practised as a barrister, specialising in family law.  ‘The Son-In-Law’ delves deeply into issues of domestic violence, family and mental health.  Is your book based on one specific incident?
I think the short answer is no. Years ago I did act for the children in a case where the father had murdered the mother and was asking for them to have contact with him while he was in prison. His case was utterly different to Joseph’s – as I recall he had killed her in cold blood and was going to be in prison for a very long time – but I remember sitting there in court while he was in the dock at the back, and thinking about the rights and wrongs of contact for such a man. That may have sown the idea in my mind, but no more than that. The book is entirely fictional, and influenced by numerous experiences rather than just the one.     

Charity NormanWas this a story that you wanted to tell for a while? Do you have more stories you wish to tell?
This story had been bubbling in a pot on my mental stove for a while, and seemed the right one to choose when I was thinking about what to write next. Yes, I have lots more stories that I’d like to tell! 

Your novel often had me in tears as I sympathised with each character.  How do you create such real emotion throughout the story?
Thank you – though sorry to make anyone cry! I don’t really have a conscious technique, but it helps me to take time to get to know my characters. I try to listen very carefully to each and walk in their shoes, really be that person in my head. It’s very like using empathy when you have a friend who’s in trouble – you listen to what they say – and also to what they don’t say – and you try to understand exactly what they are feeling. I do that with the characters. Then I write it down.   

Scarlet showed considerable maturity for a thirteen year old?  In your experience is this maturity normal for such a young person who has been through the life changing events that Scarlet had to go through?
Yes, I believe it is. To a degree, she’s taken on the role of carer for her younger brothers and found depths of maturity that she wouldn’t have had to otherwise. Of course, there are plenty of young children looking after even younger ones, for example in areas of the world where HIV has ravaged the population. They lose their childhoods even more than Scarlet has.

I do have a daughter who was Scarlet’s age as I was writing the book. She is definitely not Scarlet of course, but quite similar in terms of maturity, and I found it really helpful to know what a switched-on girl of that age might be thinking, saying and doing. At the launch of the book here in New Zealand, she read out the part of the panicking Scarlet in the prologue and I read the part of the emergency operator. I felt quite moved to hear her!

Why is it told through the first person for Scarlet and Hannah but not for Joseph?
Ah. I am so glad you asked me that! I spent weeks agonising about this. I wanted to make it very personal, so chose the first person for Scarlet and Hannah which I felt worked for them. Yet when I tried to give Joseph a first person voice, I found it just was not his voice. I think that’s because of who he is. He was always a more self-effacing type, not the sort who starts many sentences with the word ‘I’ – even more so after causing Zoe’s death, and the years in prison. He feels awful guilt and hides away on the moors. I just don’t think he wants to talk about himself. Oddly, I found this slight distance helped me to see him more clearly, rather than just seeing him as he sees himself.  

Have you had much correspondence from readers who have identified with some of the major themes in this book? If so were they positive or negative?
Not so far, though I am very grateful to those readers who have written to tell me that they like it. So far nothing negative, but I know there will be some who feel I was too generous to Joseph. I had lots of interesting feedback after ‘Freeing Grace’, which was about adoption; and again after ‘Second Chances’, which was about emigration, drug addiction and a teenager who is in deep trouble. Many people have said they identified with those themes, especially adoption.

I loved this book. Thank you for writing it and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I will be singing its praises for quite a while I think.
Thank you very much for that, and for your thoughtful questions –much appreciated!

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You’ve got a chance to win a copy of Charity’s book, courtesy of Allen and Unwin. All that you need to do to enter is email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au with the subject line ‘SON IN LAW’ and include your name and postal details. A winner will be chosen at random on 31.07.13 and notified by email.

Good luck!

If you’d like to find out more about The Son-in-Law, you can do so here…

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Shady: No Safe Place

As much as I’d like to read all the crime fiction that I receive, sometimes I have to be sensible and hand them to a TBYL Reviewer. This week, Kate Barber had a read of No Safe Place by Jenny Spence (Allen and Unwin).

Take a read of Kate’s review of this suspenseful title from a new Australian author…

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Elly Cartwright is an unassuming woman going about her everyday business. That is, of course, until two of her close friends are murdered. With the help of some very  IT-savvy work colleagues she takes it upon herself to try and get to the bottom of why this tragedy has happened, all the while being stalked by the murderer herself.

No safe place“I wake up shivering and for a moment I don’t know where I am. The light comes around the synthetic curtains is all wrong. Everything seems o strange I wonder if I’m still dreaming and I close my eyes again, willing myself back into my own bedroom with my good worn Persian rug, white cotton sheets, and the print of Vermeer’s Seamstress on the wall. But it’s no goo, I’m at Lily’s and though DS Webster isn’t chasing me and there’s no cobblestones oozing blood, Carlos and Mabel are both dead and my life could well be in danger.”

Set in Melbourne, this book has the reader traipsing around familiar territory and quirky Melbourne settings, on to Sydney and back to country Victoria. There’s also a little bit of lust and banter with Mike Lewis, the police Detective who’s following her case. An intricate web of deceit, money laundering, shady contract bids, offshore banking and Ukrainian connections is unravelled by this case of self-made ‘detectives’ and leads to an exciting climax.


Jenny Spence is a Melbourne writer and this is her first novel, leaving lots of scope for further adventures for Elly Cartwright. No Safe Place is certainly fast-paced and leaves you wanting to read on despite the fact the kids are calling and dinner needs to be cooked! At times the writing is a little clumsy “we got our coffee and we drank it” however the details and the quick pace keep the reader interested.

An easy, sit by the pool on holidays read.

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If you’d like to find out more about No Safe Place, by Jenny Spence visit here…

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Surviving: Livesaving for Beginners

Earlier in the year, I was asked to participate in a read-along with a group of bloggers who were reading Livesaving for Beginners by Ciara Geraghty (Hachette). For one reason or another I wasn’t able to participate in the conversation, but having read the first chapter of the book, I remained very curious about where this story was heading. It’s been on my Reading Pile since.

livesaving for beginnersToday, I went some way towards satisfying my curiosity by having a read of Monique’s review of the book on her blog Write Notes Reviews. It’s a great write-up and I’ve decided to share it with you today.

I was sucked in with the first chapter of this book. It had a great hook worthy of “how to start a novel” writing classes: a tired truck driver in Ireland closes his eyes just for a second and opens them to see a deer in the middle of the road. And then, a bright yellow car tossed in the air “like a bag of feathers”. It’s a tragedy. One woman dies. It’s a miracle more weren’t killed. Like Kat, a thirty-nine-year-old woman who has to be cut from her car.

From the third-person narrative of the first chapter, the book switches to a dual first-person narrative. It took me a bit of getting used to at first, because I thought the story would include a focus on the truck driver – how he fared after that horrible night. Instead, the story is told by Kat (the survivor) and nine-year-old Milo, whose mother died in the accident. Somehow, through this tragic twist of fate, they are brought together…

You can read the full review here…

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You can find out more about Ciara’s book at the Hachette website and read more of Monique’s reviews here…

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Pen pals: I’ll Be Seeing You

I didn’t know that I was giving TBYL Reviewer Kate Barber such a uniquely constructed book when I handed over I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan (Harlequin) but by all accounts this novel is something new – both in its subject matter and in how it was put together – and it certainly seems to have won Kate over…

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It’s January 1943 and the war is in full swing… normally a book that started that way would have sent me running, but from the first page of I’ll Be Seeing You I was completely hooked, so much so that I had it finished it in two sittings!

I'll be seeing youSuzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan share with us the story of two women, complete strangers, living on opposite sides of America, who, by a twist of fate begin to correspond with one another through letters. In the beginning, the only thing they have in common is that their loved ones are fighting in the war.

Rita Vincenzo – the ‘Garden Witch’ – lives in Iowa and has been married for 21 years to Sal, a professor. She has a wicked sense of humour, a love of gardening and abundant generosity. Both her 18 year old son and husband have gone to fight in the war. In contrast, on the other side of the country, in Massachusetts, lives high-society Gloria, aged 23, 7 months pregnant and mother to a 2 year old boy. With her husband also at war, she is bored and lonely. To ‘pass the time’ Gloria attends a ladies group on Wednesday afternoons in which, on one occasion, they are  asked to choose a name of a stranger out of a hat to correspond with if they began to ‘feel lonely or desperate’.

Over the next three years the two women regularly write, forging a true and beautiful friendship. Fighting their own separate battles of loneliness, temptation and desperation, their humour , honesty and in the end, deep affection for one another helps them get through the toughest time in both their lives. They share gossip, recipes, remedies for ailments, gardening tips and their histories, passions, fears and worries in the time of war.

Their journey sees them both facing incredible hardships and loneliness but through their bond and a bit of ‘girl power’, their friendship grows and is unwavering.

This book is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the two authors themselves have never met. Suzanne was blogging and connecting with other writers (no ladies group on a Wednesday here) and came across Loretta. They started writing to each other, a friendship was forged, a year later they talked on the phone. By writing emails back and forth to each other the book was formed. The method of of construction of course mirrored the story of Rita and Gloria, as their friendship grew despite never having met.

I have to say, I loved this book. It is beautifully written and outlines two very different characters and different styles of writing. The humour and honesty is lovely, the characters engaging. Get this book, make yourself a cuppa and nestle into your favourite reading chair…

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You can find out more about I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan here…

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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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