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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Healing: Currawong Creek

Today’s novel, reviewed by Tam, had her reflecting on this great rural land of ours…

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Currawong Creek by Jennifer Scoullar (Penguin) is a beautiful story of family, healing and self-discovery set against the backdrop of the amazing Australian outback!

currawongBrisbane lawyer Clare Mitchell has a structured, orderly life. That is, until she finds herself the unlikely guardian of a small, troubled boy. In desperation, Clare takes Jack to stay at Currawong Creek, her grandfather’s horse stud in the foothills of the beautiful Bunya Mountains.

Currawong feels like home and Clare relaxes for the first time in years. Her grandad adores having them there. Jack loves the animals. And Clare finds herself falling hard for the handsome local vet.

But trouble is coming. The Pyramid Mining Company threatens to destroy the land Clare loves – and with it, her newfound happiness …

I loved this novel from start to finish. It is full of powerful, individual characters that I found myself caring for quickly. Clare thinks she has her life on exactly the track she always wanted for herself. She has a successful career, handsome boyfriend and a lovely organised apartment in the heart of Brisbane. However, all this gets incredibly complicated when she takes guardianship of Jack, a troubled four year old who one morning is abandoned, left in her office by his mother, one of Clare’s clients.

Clare is faced with a challenge she could never have seen coming.

Clare hasn’t spoken to her grandparents or visited their farm for fifteen years, but with the arrival of Jack she starts thinking back to her own childhood. Jack proves to be more of a handful than Clare anticipated, and this prompts her to take a trip to a simpler life, to reconnect with her grandfather and revisit the land that she loved most as a child, Currawong Creek.

When Clare arrives at the farm she reconnects with Harry, her grandfather. She also meets the handsome local vet, Tom. These three, plus young Jack bond quickly, forming a family and the growth and healing begin. This story shows the influence that caring people can have, but interestingly, also the natural healer that the land and animals can be.

Another aspect of this story is that of the environment, and the environmental issues that face Australian farmers. The residents of Currawong find themselves fighting against a big corporation, Pyramid Mining Company. Pyramid want access to the land to do exploratory mining for coal seam gas. The little guys against the corporates! Jennifer Scoullar tells an interesting tale of the immediate rights the mining company have to the land, the effect that the mines have on these homesteads and the struggle the farmers have to maintain what have been their homes for generations.

Having grown up on a farm myself and in a small town, I found myself thinking back to these memories vividly. Feeling as though I could almost smell the land, hear my grandparents speaking and re-living the adventures. This made me connect with this story so much more. A truly wonderful novel showing struggle, laughter, sacrifice and love and the power of the beautiful country we are living in.

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You can find out more about Jennifer Scoullar’sCurrawong Creek 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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Opulence: Torn

I’ve said it before, but once again – I love it when one book’s theme follows sweetly on from another…

Last month I enjoyed Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl and in doing so, learnt a lot more about the politics, hardships and bloodshed of the Napoleonic era. I was neck-deep in the early 1800s and loving it.

tornAnd so, you can imagine my delight when I received Torn by Karen Turner (Palmer Higgs Books)…

1808. When 14 year old Alexandra meets Patrick, her handsome and notorious step-brother, she is confused and resentful as he shakes the foundations of everything she has ever known. Driving a wedge between Alex and her brother Simon, he tears apart the fabric of her quiet world. Yet she is intrigued by the enigmatic Patrick and finds herself increasingly drawn to him.

These are the years between childhood and womanhood, during which Alex begins to realise that her growing affection for Patrick owes nothing to sibling fondness.

But these are turbulent times for England and Patrick and Simon, answering the call of adventure, join the fight against Napoleon with devastating consequences.

In a family ravaged by war and deceit Alex finds herself betrayed in the worst possible way.

This is the story of one woman’s passionate struggle for love and hope against all the constraints of her time.

The bookish universe is a funny thing and so I followed its trail into a brand new period adventure.

Torn is set in London’s high society, an opulent setting where each family estate is more impressive than the last. The story’s main character, Alexandra, is a tomboy, but no less a part of her fine surroundings. She may resist, but as she grows, she finds herself drawn into the dance the same as everyone else.

Her occasional, unconventional boyish attire does little to discourage her admirers, and she finds herself betrothed, again her will…

“Oh heavens, Alexandra, what is there to understand? Lord Elginbury approached me several summers ago. Nothing was ever formally agreed, but recently our communications resumed, and yesterday a mutually favourable arrangement was achieved. You ought to consider yourself fortunate – it’s an enviable position, a perfect match that will benefit both families.”

“He has seen me?”

“Yes. The boy visited with his parents several years ago and attended the solstice ball. He thought you… suitable enough, even if you were in the garden wearing a pair of Simon’s breeches when he arrived.”

Despite being promised and her reluctance to behave in an entirely ladylike manner, Alex does find herself growing into her womanhood and in turn feeling herself fall for the bittersweet charms of her step-brother Patrick.

From this point, the story revolves around a ‘will-they-wont-they’ plot. Their relationship is feisty, heated and eventually passionate. Still, I was questioning all the way though – is this really a happily-ever-after story? Will Alexandra’s hard-headness push Patrick away, or will his good looks lead him into temptation?

Karen Turner has a great story to tell, and even though I was a little unsure about the authenticity of some of the language used, I was sufficiently drawn in by the beautiful descriptions of landscapes, gowns, riches and love triangles.

It’s an enjoyable story and one that’ll be thoroughly appreciated by fans of period dramas.

If you’d like go into the running to win a copy for yourself, all you need to do is email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au with the subject line TORN. Include your name and address and I’ll draw a winner on the evening of 31/08/13.

Plus, you can find out more about Karen Turner’s Torn here…

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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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Heatwave: A Bitter Taste

After reading A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell (Penguin) you’d be forgiven for thinking that London is intensely bleak, even when the sun is shining…

This dark and sordid tale, is lead by, and perhaps also coloured by drug-addicted investigator Catherine Berlin…

A Bitter TasteTreachery becomes a habit. 

London is in the grip of a stifling heatwave. The city has slowed to a claustrophobic shuffle. Heroin-addicted investigator Catherine Berlin suffers while working the lowest of investigations: matrimonial.

The city’s junkies are in the grip of a drought of a different kind. Sonja Kvist a strung-out ghost from Berlin’s past, turns up on her doorstep. Sonja daughter is missing. An unpaid debt leaves Berlin no choice but to take the case of the missing ten-year-old. 

Berlin is back. And soon the hunter becomes the hunted: corrupt detectives are on Berlin’s tail chasing drugs she doesn’t have, a young girl is murdered and the matrimonial case unravels. 

And the temperature keeps rising.

Despite her pervasive cynicism and being both physically and emotionally damaged, Berlin still can’t resist the pull to do the right thing, to search for a girl lost in a dangerous city. She’s doing it for Princess, she’s doing it for Sonja, but most of all she’s doing it for atonement.

Even though this book is relentlessly gritty, A Bitter Taste is a really enjoyable read. It is fast-paced, with Berlin pushing against the clock, the weather and her physical limitations. It offers up varied story-threads, well intertwined and played out by multiple characters, all of whom are playing for a piece of a very unappetising pie…

Kennedy ruminated on the fact that Bertie had him sitting in the back of a stinking hotbox of a van in Silvertown when he should have been off-duty.

It was funny how it was always him doing this sort of thing. Bertie saved himself for the high-end stuff, like belting people. Kennedy didn’t have the stomach for it. Occasions when his own buttons were pushed were rare, but when they were it could get ugly.

He raised the telephoto lens and peered through the tinted back window at the building down the road. It was quiet, apart from a lone figure limping across the gravel towards the portico. There was no sign of a vehicle or a departing mini-cab, s she must have walked from the DLR station. Kennedy tightened focus.

It was the woman he’d noticed the other day crouching against the wall, watching the place. He took a few shots just before she disappeared around the back of the building. Probably another junkie looking for a connection. Good luck, love, he thought, that’s what we’re all waiting for. He was bored half to death. Maybe he would take a closer look.

The story is dark, but not disturbingly so, and it frantically, but satisfyingly resolved at its conclusion.

I’ll admit, I found it a little funny how relative the term ‘heatwave’ can be. Each section of the novel begins with a temperature reading; 28C, 29.5C, 33C. It worked well as a device to communicate a rising heat, but I found it difficult to stop myself thinking; “33 degrees, bah, that’s nothing! She should try 43 degrees!” Nonetheless, the sense of relief brought by the final section, entitled ’12C’ was both felt and appreciated.

I was really drawn into the twists and turns of this novel, and am sufficiently intrigued by Berlin’s scarred state to want to go back to Book 1 in the Catherine Berlin Series, In Her Blood and take a look. I’m sure it’ll be more of the same grit and grunge!

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If you’d like to find out more about A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell, visit the Penguin website 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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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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What are ‘The Rules of Conception’?

Handing over today’s novel to one of the TBYL Reviewers was difficult, I really wanted to read it myself. But alas, in order to be timely I am learning to  share, and to that end, the lovely Steph recently took a look at the hilarious and engaging, The Rules of Conception by Angela Lawrence (Harlequin). She was also able to ask a few questions of Angela, giving us further insight into how this fascinating story made it to the page.

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“Rachel Richards is ready to be a mother. She’s got a great job, a good income, a beautiful inner city apartment and a great group of supportive friends. All she needs is a father to have the child with….”

Rules of ConceptionSingle motherhood is an emotionally charged topic often hotly debated in the media. Angela Lawrence’s The Rules of Conception from Harlequin should be mandatory reading for anyone entering into the debate.

“While I’m watching, the little boy reaches up and gives his mother a big smacking kiss on the cheek. She tickles him and he laughs hysterically before being so tired that he puts his arms around her neck and closes his eyes. And it hits me right then and there, while sitting on the bus, looking at the little boy’s chubby arms and sleeping angel’s face. I am not going to miss out on that.”

Angela Lawrence has written a fantastic story about one woman’s solo journey to become a parent. From the moment we first meet Rachel, as she is being stood up by her boyfriend on her birthday, to the final exciting chapter of her story, we are drawn into the emotional rollercoaster that is pregnancy. Who could begrudge Rachel the chance to experience the unconditional love that she sees between mother and son on the bus.

Rachel is a great character, likeable and easy to relate to. She has a nightmare boss in a job she loves, great friends and a supportive family. Rachel could easily be your sister, cousin or workmate. She explores many options for solo pregnancy and along the way encounters supportive and discouraging people in the most unlikely of situations.

Angela Lawrence shows the ups and downs of pregnancy and going it alone. Rachel’s birthing class experience is hilarious and totally relatable to anyone who has been to one.

I really enjoyed reading The Rules of Conception. It is a funny, engaging book which will appeal to mothers and singles alike. You will love Rachel from the moment you meet her, and will be cheering her on as she embarks on a sometimes turbulent, sometimes hilarious journey.

It was wonderful to be able to ask Angela a few questions last week…

You present a well balanced and realistic portrayal of single parenthood. Was it almost cathartic to write about the single mother road as it is one you, yourself have travelled? 
I decided to write The Rules of Conception after seeing a couple of interviews with single mothers by choice and felt that these women were represented by the media as lonely and slightly disappointed. It occurred to me that people are willing to accept a stereotype about single mothers that is increasingly becoming outdated – particularly with reference to those who have children alone by choice, or are happy to fall pregnant even if they are single. So, in that sense that I was pleased with how Rachel’s character and choice developed as the story progressed.

I guess, the main area that was cathartic for me, was writing about being single and pregnant. There are so many great things about it – but at the same time, it is unchartered territory and not without it’s challenges.

How supportive was the donor and planned single parent community when you were researching the book?
In my wider circle, I was lucky enough to be introduced to a small group of men who had become known donors or co-parents. It was great to get their perspective on how they pragmatise their decision. A lot of my perspective however is from observing and talking to men and women on donor forums and some were quite happy to talk about their actions and choices. These people have thought about their decisions and have taken a really bold step in going online to make it happen. Given they’d reached this point, those who I spoke to, could articulate their reasons extremely well.

Rachel is an immediately likeable character – how did you go about putting her on the page in such an endearing way? 
I think that Rachel’s likeability comes from her imperfections. On the whole, she’s very level headed and her plan is well thought out and executed – but she’s still capable of doing dumb things, making bad decisions, and expressing her own human frailty. Plus, she can always see humor in less than ideal scenarios

Initially, when I started writing The Rules of Conception, Rachel was far less flawed and she came across as a little too smug as a result. I remember reading what I’d written and thought to myself: If I don’t like her, who will? So I went back and made her a lot more self deprecating.

Was it important to you to present this quite emotional topic with humour and lightness?
Absolutely. The moment I decided to write The Rules of Conception, my plan was to create something accessible and entertaining. This is a subject that is relevant to a generation of women who have grown up on chick lit and fiction that takes a light approach to their big issues. I really wanted single parenting to be treated in the same way.

What’s next for you Angela? 
It’s a good question. I’ll probably spend some time in the short term, Googling reviews for my book and alternating between being really happy and somewhat mortified as a result. Other than that, I’m in the midst of writing something new, child wrangling and taking each day as it comes.

You can find out more about The Rules of Conception here…

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We’ve got two copies of Angela’s book up for grabs this month at That Book You Like… courtesy of Harlequin. Check out this month’s edition of TBYL News: All Things Bookish… for details of how to enter to win!

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Blue fire: Indigo Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boy caught fire.

Blue fire.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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