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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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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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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Fifteen Realms: Scent of Magic

Today’s review is from TBYL Reviewer, Kathy P. She’s been visiting the Fifteen Realms…

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At my age, I don’t read a lot of books aimed at the teen market.  After my most recent read, Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder (Harlequin) this is something I’d like to change.

Scent of MagicScent of Magic is the second book in a trilogy.  It follows two main characters – Avry of Kazan, a healer with magical healing powers who is thought to have died, and her boyfriend (for want of a better term) Kerrick, a Prince who has yet to accept his father’s legacy as King of Alga but has forest magic.

As the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, Avry of Kazan is in a unique position: in the minds of her friends and foes alike, she no longer exists.

Despite her need to prevent the megalomaniacal King Tohon from winning control of the Realms, Avry is also determined to find her sister and repair their estrangement. 

Though she should be in hiding, Avry will do whatever she can to oppose King Tohon. Including infiltrating a holy army, evading magic sniffers, teaching forest skills to soldiers and stopping Tohon’s most horrible creations; and army of the walking dead – human and amimal alike.

War is coming and Avry is alone. Unless she figures out how to do the impossible… again.”

The world of the Fifteen Realms is well laid out.  It is complicated but well explained.  Maria V. Snyder has thought about distance and travelling time, as well as the layout of the landscape.

The use of magic is very interesting.  People who have magical ability develop the ability close to puberty, but it is an intensification of the world around them.  Healers heal by removing the injury or disease from the patient and drawing it into themselves.  This leaves the Healer with the scars of the injury or illness and the recipient of magic without mark.  The Healers heal much faster than ordinary people, but still it is fascinating to see how Snyder has given the use of magic unique consequences.

The characters are very complex and their relationships are even more complex.  As this is the second book in the series and because I have not read the first book, Touch of Power, I found the complexity of the relationships and characters a little difficult to catch up on, and as a result I had a little trouble getting into the story in the beginning.  There was no short explanation as to what has come before this book – it started at the next moment after conclusion of Touch of Power.  Some explanation of the intricacies of the story were  provided later in the book but to begin with I found myself looking for a bit more information, and unfortunately even at the end I was left wondering how some characters really fitted in. I think this would have been different had I read the first book.

In saying that – what a read!  An edge-of-seat ending and I absolutely did not want to leave the book alone to do anything else while I was reading. It well and truly delivered.  I’d like to back track a little and read the first book to fill in a few gaps, but I also can’t wait for the sequel to be released.

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You can find out more about Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder here…

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True Adventures: Red Carpet Burns

Today’s book had TBYL Reviewer, Tam Jenkin galavanting around Los Angeles. Red Carpet Burns by Georgia Cassimatis (Harlequin) is Georgia’s memoir, full of famous names and famous faces, complete with ups and downs and beautiful scoundrels. Here’s what Tam thought of the book…

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red carpet burnsRed Carpet Burns is the very busy memoir of Georgia Cassimatis’s seven years in Los Angeles. It’s packed full of stories, many that are fascinating, some that are infuriating and others that are simply mind boggling!

After meeting the gorgeous and charismatic Simon, Georgia Cassimatis swaps her fabulous life in Sydney for Los Angeles, risking it all for a chance at love. Georgia soon finds out, however, that Simon is not the man he seemed to be, and she has left her entire world behind for a loveless marriage with a man who is intent on making her miserable.

LA is a tough town – especially for a girl with no friends, no money and no job – but Georgia finds her way through the liars, fakes and cheats to become a successful celebrity journalist and soon realises she’s fallen in love again – this time with her new home town… LA.

Georgia begins this book by recounting every girl’s nightmare… thinking she had found ‘The One’ she gives up her life in Australia to move to a new country with him, only to find out that Prince Charming is in fact anything but! Much to her dismay, once she moves to Los Angeles to be with him, Simon quickly turns into an extremely mean and abusive man – the promises that he had made to her were very different from reality, leaving her heart-broken and a long way from home.

As it turns out, Georgia seems to have a lot of bad luck with men, always finding herself attracted to the wrong guy. Throughout her book, she actually paints a pretty bleak picture of the guys of Lis Angeles. Men that on the outside appear wonderful, with expensive cars, who are well groomed and have impressive jobs, but all of whom seem to end up so flaky and with far too much baggage. It’s fascinating to read her descriptions of how different the ‘dating’ scene is in LA compared to Australia.

Despite being ‘unlucky in love’, Georgia does have some very impressive stories to tell of the life she begins to live once she’s a little more settled in her new home. Although it takes her a long time to find work, when she does finds her feet, she meets a lot of famous stars and becomes deeply embroiled in a life of freelance interviews, parties and ‘background artists’ (otherwise known as Extras on movies).

hollywood

One aspect that I found the most interesting about Red Carpet Burns were the stories of the friends that she makes during her time in LA. Her ‘Angels’ as she calls them, were quite often fellow Aussies who had set up home in LA. They seemed to find a sense of comfort in each other, they became one another’s family.

Red Carpet Burns is a very well told story. There’s a lot of information and many short stories in this novel, but it is well put together and I found it very easy to follow. I found it quite a fascinating read, but also a frustrating read – I found myself wanting to just shake Georgia and warn her of the next bad decision she was about to make!

At the time of reading this book, I was personally researching a trip to America and found it fascinating to hear an insider’s view on all the glitz and glamour. She on one hand made it sound as though you would be sitting next to someone famous at every cafe you visited, but then on the other hand she also described some places rather bleakly. It did however, only feed my desire to visit the States as it really does sound like a world completely different to the one we reside in.

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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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Loyality: The Ambassador’s Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Secrets: Garden of Stones

Today’s review comes from my friend and new TBYL Reviewer, Anne Hoye. In January Anne read Catch of the Day, a fun, light-hearted romance. This time, Anne she’s gone for something a little darker.  Anne’s review this week is of Sophie Littlefield’s Garden of Stones (Harlequin)…

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“In the dark days of war, a mother makes the ultimate sacrifice.”

garden of stonesGarden of Stones is a story of a mother’s love and a daughter’s courage, set in America during the second World War, with flashes forward to the year 1978. This is a wonderful story, well written, and it’s very interesting.

Lucy and her parents  are Japanese, living in Los Angeles. They lead a comfortable life, filled with luxuries. However, after the sudden death of her father, and the bombing of Pearl Harbour, Lucy and her mother’s lives are turned upside down. Their non-Japanese friends and neighbours turn against them, “because you’re a Jap”.  All Japanese people, including Lucy and her mother, Miyako, are rounded up and sent off to Manzanar, a prison camp. The conditions are harsh, with gaps in the floors and walls, allowing the cold, and the sand, and the heat to constantly enter their sparse rooms.

Miyako and Lucy are beautiful. Miyako catches the eye of the prison guards, and suffers abuse over many months. When Lucy begins to be targeted by the same prison guards, Miyako is horrified, and tries to protect Lucy. Unfortunately, the manner in which Miyako protects her daughter is shocking, horrifying. As a mother, I can only imagine the horror that Miyako must have gone through at the hands of the prison guards for her to think that her actions toward Lucy were better than the thought of Lucy having to suffer the same such abuse.

Sadly, unable to bare any more, Miyako commits suicide leaving Lucy alone in the world. We follow her story as she tries to find her way through life, a path made more difficult by her looks. Lucy eventually finds love and comfort, however, after an unplanned pregnancy, this is also taken away from her.

Throughout the book, the story moves between the past, and the present (which is set in 1978.) Despite the changes in time and place, the narrative is easy to follow, as the chapters are clearly marked with the year in which that part of the story is occurring. In the year 1978, we are introduced to Lucy’s adult daughter, Patty. Patty is planning her wedding, when her mother Lucy is implicated in a murder investigation. Patty has grown up with no father, and no knowledge of who he is. She knows little of her mother’s past and it is through Patty’s determination to clear Lucy’s name, that she uncovers the real story of her mother’s upbringing.

Garden of Stones is a story of tragedy and revenge, but it is also a story about love, kindness, and forgiveness. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and couldn’t put it down. I was intrigued to find out what happened to Lucy, and through Patty’s discoveries, I kept finding out more and more surprising details which ensured I kept reading. The surprises kept coming right up until the very end. This is a real page turner – part suspense, part drama.

A highly recommended read!

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You can find out more about Sophie Littlefield’s Garden of Stones here…

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