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Copycat: All Day and A Night

Without really meaning to I challenged TBYL Reviewer Adam Jenkin to read a little bit differently this month. Although crime isn’t usually his genre of choice, it would seem that he got pretty sucked into his recent read, All Day and A Night by Alafair Burke (Allen and Unwin). Here’s what he made of this gritty mystery…

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Anthony Amaro is a convicted serial killer, behind bars serving life without parole. His signature move of breaking the arms and legs of his victims placed him beautifully for the murder of five women in the Utica area and one in nearby New York City itself. Five of the working girls were found in the same park. He even boasted about it to a cellmate. His guilt seemed unquestionable. Or so they all thought.

All day and a nightWhen Helen Brunswick, a New York psychologist, from Utica is murdered in her office 18 years later, using the same MO as Anthony Amaro, just as a letter turns up at the District Attorney’s office outlining elements of the Amaro case that remained hidden from the public and protesting Amaro’s innocence, suddenly two and two no longer add up to four.

Enter Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan, pulled in as a set of fresh eyes to look at a case that at every corner seems to point towards a copycat and a leak in the department; and Carrie Blank, a successful and very sought-after lawyer at a prestigious law firm, who just happens to be the sister of one of Amaro’s victims.

Carrie quits her prestigious post to join Amaro’s newly assembled defence team, telling herself her reasons are more noble than simple curiosity about what happened to the badly misled Donna Blank, victim number four. Carrie’s interest in the events in Utica are brought to a peak when the evidence surrounding Donna’s last movements don’t match up with her own memories.

Ellie and JJ roll in to Utica to tie up a few loose ends, and find more than they can tie up alone. Helen Brunswick’s earlier clientele from the old neighbourhood, the local senior police officer and his aspiring politician son and a more than enthusiastic defence lawyer seem to continually jump up in their path until what started out as a simple case of “one killer, six victims” is now nowhere near that simple.

Going through the saga behind the characters of Ellie and Carrie, the insights they both have of different sides of the case present two unique perspectives, each searching for their own truth. Even though their tales are told as opposing battles, the search for what really happened to all the victims is really attention grabbing, it had me hooked. My loyalties for characters and ideas of what occurred tended to sway from one to the other, so that I was kept in the story so thoroughly that even once I had worked out who did what, I was still hanging on every page to find out how, why, where and when.

The detective-trailing murder-mystery is not usually a genre I follow, as the plot lines either tend to be too vague, right up until the final few chapters or so see-through that what the writer thinks are plot twists you can see coming a mile away. All Day And A Night did neither of these things. Feel free to ignore the comment on the cover about the female characters’ private and public battle for acceptance, as I did. I noticed the tagline once I’d read about half the book and really couldn’t see how the story had very much to do with that. Ellie was a head-strong tomboy and Carrie the intelligent and still-grieving sister, but neither character’s storyline dragged anywhere near internal feminine battles with trauma. I was pretty satisfied though with its focus on the crime, the clues and the work being done by Ellie and Carrie.

In short, I loved it because it was neither a catch the real killer or a genius behind the scenes madman relative story, putting enough twists and turns into an old fashioned whodunit (or whodunwhat…) to keep you perched on both Ellie and Carries shoulders for the whole ride.

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You can find out more about All Day and A Night by Alafair Burke here…

 

 

Meeting Ceridwen Dovey

Last month, the TBYL Book Club enjoyed a shared read of Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin), and from those I chatted with, it seemed that this book really got us all thinking.

I reviewed the book, a collection of short stories told from the perspective of the souls of animals killed in human conflicts (you can read the review here), but I was also lucky enough to be able to ask the collection’s author Ceridwen a number of questions. Her answers shed some light on what I found to be a really moving, curious read…

Ceridwen_Dovey_author photoI’m going to start with a really obvious question, only because I’m personally really curious about the answer – what made you think of, and choose, to write a book from the perspective of the souls of dead animals? It’s such a unique concept, I’d love to know what brought you to it.
When I first thought of using animal narrators to look at human conflicts from a slightly offbeat perspective, I realised I’d have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of sentimentalising the animal voices. It’s really hard to write an animal voice that doesn’t end up being cutesy or mawkish – maybe because we’re so used to animal characters in children’s literature and film – and also that doesn’t anthropomorphise the animal to the extent that all the strangeness of the creature and the way it experiences the world is lost. So two of the tactics I came up with to avoid this were to have the animal souls writing from beyond the grave, telling us about their deaths, to give the tales a bit of a Gothic edge, and the other was to have them channeling the voice of a human author who wrote about animals in the last century, so that each animal narrator sounded different.

You work lots of authors and poets into your stories; Henry Lawson, Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Robert Browning, Sylvia Plath, and more. Are these particularly favourites of yours, or did their histories just sit nicely with the time and place of the animal’s stories?
It depended on the story – because each story weaves together an animal voice, an author who wrote about animals, and a conflict, I let the research lead me to some authors, while with others the authors led me to the animal or to the conflict. All of the authors who are mentioned in the book used animal characters in their fiction in some way or another, and the ones I knew I wanted to use as inspiration were Virginia Woolf (who wrote a biography of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning from the perspective of her dog, Flush, in the 1930s) and Franz Kafka, because so many of his short fictions feature animals, and the way he uses them in his writing is the opposite of sentimental: his animal stories are often macabre and disturbing.

Do you have a particular favourite of the ten stories?
The elephant story (set in 1980s Mozambique during the civil war) one was the most difficult to write because it’s the one that is probably the saddest, with no humour or playfulness to temper the sadness, and it was written in a sort of tribute to my sister, so I’d say either that one or the tortoise story (where a Russian tortoise ends up being shot out around the moon by the Soviet Space Program during the Cold War) because it was so much fun to write.

You treated the theme of death and conflict with a skilfully soft touch. At no point did I feature guilted, lectured or horrified, just moved, which in turn caused me to reflect (not recoil). Was this a deliberate technique? Could you tell us a little bit more about how you approached what could have been a heavy topic, with such a deft hand?
Thank you for saying this! Yes, it was deliberate, and it was something I knew was crucial for the book not to be off-putting because of the serious themes. I’m by no means an animal rights activist (I’m not even a vegetarian), so the book wasn’t really coming from a place of activism but was instead a way for me to push my own imagination to the limits and see if I could pull it off. I wanted to see if perhaps readers might be jolted into feeling something different by looking at these human conflicts through animal eyes, just to see them afresh and feel something authentic instead of the compassion fatigue so many of us suffer from in modern times.

Similarly, many of the stories had a very distinct style – I particularly enjoyed the Beatnik mussels of ’Somewhere Along the Line the Pearl Would be Handed to Me’ – how did you decide on the style you would choose? Was it difficult to work up an authentic storytelling style for each story?
It was just really fun. I’d sort of lost my way with my fiction writing when I started working on the stories that became this book, and this was the project that reminded me why I love writing and why I absolutely need it in my life, even if I’m writing for nobody but me. It was all just an experiment, really, and I just went with crazy ideas (like a talking mussel who speaks in the style of Jack Kerouac and dies in Pearl Harbor) without questioning whether they were good crazy or bad crazy! Again, the human authors led me to the style of each story, often – and in many of the stories I use words, phrases, paragraphs that the author him/herself used in fiction or journal writings, so their style and words are literally embedded in the animal narratives.


only the animalsWhat’s the feedback been like to your book so far?
It has been very kind so far. I’m trying not to read reviews this time around – even the good ones can kind of mess with your head – but my parents and husband tell me that reviewers have been very generous, and of course my friends and family tell me they like the book but they have to?

What do you hope readers take away from this collection?
I hope that readers come away from the collection re-inspired to explore authors they might not have read – to go to some of the original texts mentioned in the book, and keep exploring the idea of animals in fiction from all these varied perspectives.

What’s next for you?
Next up is a novel set in Sydney about an elderly man who gets involved in the dying with dignity movement. And I’m also trying my hand at speculative fiction.
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I really enjoyed chatting with Ceridwen Dovey, and can’t wait to see what she produces next. If you’d like to find out more about Only the Animals, please visit Penguin here…

Grit and Determination in Crimson Dawn

I think it’s fair to say that Tam Jenkin has become our official Rural Romance expert, she’s read so much Chook Lit now I’m surprised she’s not clucking. She loves it of course, hence her specialisation, and today’s book was no exception. Here’s what Tam thought of Crimson Dawn by Fleur McDonald (Allen and Unwin)…

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Laura Murphy will need to call on all her grit and determination to retain her beloved farm… But will her fierce self reliance close her off to the possibility of love?

crimson dawnSince inheriting Nambina, the property that’s been in her family for generations, Laura Murphy has worked wonders. Rather than just focus on farming she has set up a successful school teaching women the basics of managing a property – from fencing and mustering to handling the financial side of the business.

But the notoriously self-reliant Laura is lonely and still scarred by a tragedy from her past. She’s also grappling with the hostility of her nearest neighbour and former best friend, Meghan Hunter. The fact that Laura’s ex-boyfriend Josh is Meghan’s brother only makes things worse.

When a solicitor contacts Laura saying his clients may have a claim over Nambina, her entire world is turned upside down, and she has to call on all her determination to hold on to the property she’s worked so hard to build. In the process she realises she must reach out to friends and loved ones or risk losing everything.

Crimson Dawn is Fleur McDonald’s fifth novel and once again it reflects her own experiences of living in remote Australian farming area. McDonald’s writing paints a picturesque scene of the Australian outback, and of what it is like to grow up rural and how challenging it can be working on the land.

Laura is a young woman who has had a wonderful upbringing on Nambina, being raised by her dad and grandfather. On the day that her grandfather announces that he is signing over the farm to Laura, all her dreams have come true. Still, in her heart of hearts she is scared that she will not be able to take care of the property – it’s such a huge undertaking on her own. Laura’s father, step-mother and two half sisters all now reside in Adelaide, and she has just discovered that she is pregnant.  Despite these substantial challenges, she is determined that she will succeed.

What she didn’t know was that more than her fair share of heartbreak awaits her.

After her grandfather dies she is left feeling very alone. To make matters worse she breaks up with her boyfriend, falls out with her best friend (her ex-boyfriend’s sister) and subsequently shut herself off in order not to get hurt again.

Laura throws herself into the task of turning the farm into a school, teaching other young girls about farming and managing property. The school is going well until she receives threats from her ex-best friend and a letter from a lawyer advising that someone has reason to believe that they can claim ownership of Nambina. Can Laura keep the farm? Will the help of her family and the handsome vet, Tim be enough? Will she open her heart to Tim, even if it means risking getting hurt again?

I’ll admit that it took me a little while to get into this book. It took a little longer than I like to get to crux of the story, however, I am glad that I persevered as once the story picked up it was full of twists and turns and kept me turning the pages! Laura is a courageous, strong, sometimes pigheaded, but determined leading lady.

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You can find out more about Crimson Dawn by Fleur McDonald here…

Take Your Pick at the ABDA Awards

Although there are lots of book awards out there, one of the awards programs that fascinates me the most is Australian Book Design Awards. This is probably because, for me, books are not just about the words within them, but about the object itself – the book’s production, its print, and its design. It’s part of the reason why I love recipe books and coffee table books so much, but it’s also why I am a complete sucker for a beautifully-designed cover on a print-based book. I’m afraid, I am a bit inclined to judge a book by its cover.

abda-carousel
In late 2013 the Australian Publishing Association decided to discontinue the Book Design Awards. To keep the longest running Australian  graphic design awards alive for the 62nd consecutive year, a group of designers formed the Australian Book Design Awards. ABDA exists to support Australian book designers — to promote their work to, and connect with, the broader publishing community. One of their main aims is to discover and foster emerging talent.

As announcements of the winners fast approaches, you, as part of the reading community, have an opportunity to get involved. For just a couple more days, you can cast your vote in the People’s Choice Award for Best Designed Book of the Year, proudly supported by Bookworld.

Bookworld is proud to host the People’s Choice Award for Best Designed Book of the Year, placing the power in the hands of the public to determine their favourite design out of 65 entries. To vote, all you need to do is visit the ABDA People’s Choice Award page on Bookworld’s website and choose from a gallery of book designs. The winners will be announced on 22 August 2014 at the ABDA Awards Party held in Melbourne.

You’ve got until the 19 August 2014 to cast your vote! Trust me, there’s some stunners to choose from.

bookworld logo

Bookworld (formerly Borders Australia) is an Australian online book shop and a division of the Penguin group. Headquartered in Melbourne, Bookworld stocks more than 13 million titles of books, eBooks, audio books, CDs, DVDs, eReaders and gifts on their website. Bookworld boasts low prices and offers free delivery on all orders Australia-wide.

In short, they love books, and would love to hear about which one you love too! You can visit their website here, to have a browse for yourself.

So what are you waiting for? Go and take a look at the 65 books, and feel free to pop back and let us know what you voted for. I’m off to vote myself, right now!

Getting Crafty: Pretty Funny Tea Cosies

TBYL Reviewer Narelle is one of the craftiest people I know, so it was only fitting that I had her take a look at Pretty Funny Tea Cosies by Loani Prior (Murdoch). I loved the designs in this book, but not being a knitter, knew little what to do with these gorgeous patterns. Just quietly, I was hoping that Narelle might get inspired and have a go at some of these gorgeous tea cosies. Here’s what she thought of Loani’s book…

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On a dull and dreary winter’s afternoon, a Sunday in Melbourne, I was fortunate enough to pick up Pretty Funny Tea Cosies (& other beautiful knitted things) to review. What a beautiful burst of colour, as I flicked through this book! As an avid crafter with moderate knitting experience, I was very keen to read through and find a project that might suit my abilities.

pretty funny tea cosiesFloral and fruity, stripy and checkered; there are tea cosies to suit every pot and every taste. In addition, Loani has included patterns for delicate knitted gift bags, vibrant pot holders, colourful knitted coat hangers and a simply divine neck warmer that I’ve earmarked as my pet project.

Loani’s use of carefully dyed yarn is evident throughout her creations and they leap from the page, begging to be replicated.

Loani is generous in her assertion that “knitting is easy. If you know how to knit a stitch, purl a stitch, cast on and off, you can do anything.” Such faith could inspire a simple knitter to attempt any of her many patterns. Instructions for methods used throughout the book are carefully detailed and photographed to assist in beginning and completing the projects. Each project is explained thoroughly with helpful tips and beautiful stories of how the project came to life.

tea cosies 2

Pretty Funny Tea Cosies is a warm, cosy read ideal for both novice and experienced knitters. I’m sure it could inspire a non-knitter to pick up some needles. I’m looking forward to stretching my skills further and making my teapot warmer in the process!

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So Narelle, just in case you’re wondering, I’ve got a four-cup Donna Hay teapot in need of a lovely bright cosy. If you feel so inclined…

You can find out more about Pretty Funny Tea Cosies by Loani Prior here…

Taking us Back of Beyond

Today’s review from TBYL Reviewer, Stephanie Hunt takes us to the back of beyond

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Former sheep shearer, dingo trapper and horse breaker Hugh Tindall reminisces on his extraordinary life in outback Queensland…

backofbeyondBack of Beyond by Freda Marnie Nicholls (Allen and Unwin) is a great read, one I thoroughly enjoyed. If you have ever had an older member of your family who told great stories, true or not, reading this book will bring back memories of listening to them tell their tales. Part history book, part biography, you don’t have to have a rural background to enjoy Hugh’s story as the history and his insight into the past are fascinating. His experiences give you a great respect for those who persevered in the face of adversity in the early years of agriculture in Australia.

Hugh Tindall has had a rich and interesting life and from the very first chapter I was hooked. Freda Marnie Nicholls has captured his voice perfectly and you feel as though you are sitting listening to Hugh tell his story in person. I am so pleased that Freda has recorded Hugh’s memories as all too often, gems like Hugh don’t have the chance to pass on their stories to a wider audience. Reading Back of Beyond reminded me of listening to my grandfather tell stories about his life growing up in rural Tasmania, doing many of the same things as Hugh.

The descriptions of life in the early 1930s and 40s are fantastic and Hugh’s admiration and love for his mother, a woman who raised six children in very tough conditions, shines through in every word. Later, we hear about shearing and the big strike in 1956 and again we see the admiration and respect Hugh has for rural women, this time his wife. It’s a fascinating first hand recount of the debate and strike over wages, conditions and roles. Hugh’s descriptions of how he learnt to shear as a teen, events that occurred during the strike and the effect the strike had on his family and friends is insightful and non-judgmental. Incidents are recalled matter-of-factly, that’s just how it was.

In the latter part of the book we learn about dingos and sheep and Hugh’s life after retirement, not that old farmers ever really retire!

Back of Beyond is a book that anyone can read and enjoy. Hugh not only recalls his personal experiences in the outback but also gives us a fascinating glimpse of how rural Australia emerged and what life was like for the extraordinary men and women who lived on and developed the land. It’s important for all of us to understand how people like Hugh and his family shaped the Australia we have today.

This book will be top of my list of books to give to my Dad, as I know he would enjoy reading every word.

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You can find out more about Freda Marnie Nicholls’ Back of Beyond here…

To Inspire: The Priority List

I wasn’t brave enough to read today’s book, David Menasche’s The Priority List (Allen and Unwin), I thought I might struggle with the subject matter a little, and so I passed it on to TBYL Reviewer Narelle. She’s made me wish I’d read it, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too. Here’s her thoughts…

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I picked up David Menasche’s The Priority List and immediately warmed to the premise outlined on the cover: “A teachers final quest to discover life’s greatest lessons.” With an endorsement from Elizabeth Gilbert and the back cover questioning “What truly matters in life?” I had mentally slotted this in somewhere alongside Tuesdays with Morrie and Life’s Golden Ticket, as an uplifting, moving read that would warm my heart. What I read was altogether more intriguing and absorbing than first glance suggested.

the priority listWith two retired school teachers as parents, the teaching world that Menasche inhabits is a familiar one, I’ve seen first-hand a similar dedication and passion for teaching. As Menasche begins his story though, life throws a huge boulder in front of him – a diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumour. It’s his response though, that shows his strength and courage, telling family, friends and beloved students “Don’t worry – I’ve got this.”

Menasche weaves his story back and forth, telling stories of students and his encounters with them alongside a history of his teaching career. His passion for learning and for igniting a similar passion in his students is evident throughout his story. He tells of his excitement of having a classroom and students to call his own at Coral Reef Senior High.

“But as much as I wanted to make a good impression on my coworkers, what mattered to me most were the kids. I couldn’t wait to meet them. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”, the author and scholar William Arthur Ward wrote. I wanted to be great teacher. The best they’d ever had.” 

David candidly shares the terror of his diagnosis and the at times brutal toll his cancer treatment takes on his body. Throughout his illness, his unwavering passion for teaching and inspiring his students keeps him afloat, and indeed he credits them with giving him the will to continue. As his health deteriorates, he reaches a crushing realization – that he can no longer continues his classroom teaching. His body and eyesight failing, but his determination firm, he begins a new quest – to visit his former students and find out where life has taken them.

And in this modern age, how best to connect with his now scattered flock? Why, through Facebook of course! With a swift response from all over the US, David sets out to meet and learn about the many students he inspired in his classroom. Along the way, he faces physical and personal challenges that will alter his life forever.

Ultimately I found The Priority List many things – inspiring and moving, deeply sad at moments and joy-filled in others. Menasche’s love of teaching, learning, and life shine through, reflected through the testimony of many students that experienced first hand his passion for learning. A quirky mixture of John Keating (Dead Poets Society) with a dash of rebellious Walter White (Breaking Bad), David Menasche’s story is unique, and one that deserves to be shared.

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You can find out more about David Menasche’s The Priority List, here…

Chatter: TBYL Reviewers in July

On the weekend I had a chance to catch up with some of the TBYL Reviewers. It was a chance to have a chat, drink some tea and have them pick a few books they’d like to read and review for the blog. I’m really keen to move That Book You Like… in a really collaborative direction this year, and part of making that happen is catching up with this wonderful group of bookish friends more regularly. I am very excited about being able to bring new voices, new ideas and new reviews to the blog, and just quietly, I think they might be excited too.

chatSo, on a chilly Sunday afternoon, we sat around the fire in my humble ‘library’ and talked about all kinds of things. Here’s a few of the things that we chatted about, I’d love to hear what you think on these topics too…

We talked about what we’d been reading lately, always one of my favourite things to do. Stephanie had just finished Paper Towns, by John Green. She’d been impressed, a fan of young adult lit, and this book didn’t disappoint. This got us on to talking about The Fault in our Stars (as you might expect) and about the target demographic of YA fiction. I wondered out loud if I would ever be able to convincingly write a teenage voice, I feel so far away from 16-years-old at the moment, I think I would be too self conscious to even try. Tam suggested that maybe that that is what it is to be a talented author, the skill and empathy to write in many voices, even ones far removed from yourself.

What do you think? Do you think an adult can authentically write teen?

Tam and Narelle had both been busy reading books from the TBYL Reading Pile, Tam with Crimson Dawn (Allen and Unwin), and Narelle with The Priority List (Allen and Unwin). They’ve since written reviews for me to share, which will be coming up next week.

Carolyn had just finished Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. It broke a bit of a reading drought for her, so I asked her if she’d mind putting a few words down on what she thought of the novel:

the year of the floodThe Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood follows two women, Toby and Ren, who have independently survived a pandemic, each believing that they are the only person left in the world. The story alternates between each woman, both of whom managed to remain barricaded when the waterless flood hit. Both Toby and Ren tell their story, of when they were part of the cult “God’s Gardeners” before the outbreak.

The Year of The Flood is the follow-up book to Atwood’s 2003 novel Oryx and Crake and it is these characters who appear throughout the second instalment but under different names. It is not until the end that you realise who they are and their connection to Toby and Ren.

I loved this book and was gripped until the end. It is set in the future in a world that I personally hope never eventuates, where pigs have been spliced with human brains making them more intelligent, and lions and lambs have been combined, making them appear gentle yet have the ferocity of a lion. Atwood’s storytelling is brilliant and if you are a fan of hers, then I think you will thoroughly enjoy this book.

As for myself, I raved a little more about Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, which I reviewed last week. I can’t stop recommending it, and I think it’s voices will stay fresh in my mind for a little while yet.

I’d love to hear about what you’re reading at the moment…

We had a bit of a chat about book clubs, about how great they are, but how difficult it can be to keep up the momentum – life gets so busy! Carolyn mentioned that her mum had been going to the same book club for over twenty years! Can you image?!

That got me to thinking about the fact that we’ve not had an online TBYL Book Club book for ages. I’ve been missing it, and so next month I’m going suggest a book for us all to share. Stay tuned next week for details of the what and when…

Are you part of a book club? Do you find it hard to make time to chat about what you’re reading?

Throughout the afternoon a whole bundle of titles were mentioned; The Book of Rachel, which made me think of The Red TentHaruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and The Hottest State, by Ethan Hawke (random, I know). We talked about the scandal that was Judy Bloom’s Forever and Carolyn shared with us how this little book from the 70s managed to sully her reputation at high school (well, almost).

pretty funny tea cosiesOnce we’d finished up, the guys took their picks from the TBYL Reading Pile, all of them walking away with some amazing stories to enjoy. I’m particularly pleased that Narelle took a copy of Pretty Funny Tea Cosies and Other Beautiful Knitted Things, by Loani Prior (Murdoch Books). Just quietly I’m hoping she knits something from it, she’s so wonderfully crafty and these tea cosies could not be cuter!

In short, this all means that we’ve got lots of new reviews in store for you guys. They’ve even agreed to help out with our book clubs in the future, and I’ve invited them to review other lovely things the do and see. I can’t wait to hear what they’re up to!

If you’d like to find out more about fantastic team of TBYL Reviewers, pop over and read a little more here…

Any of the titles mentioned here tickle your fancy? I’d love to know what’s next on your reading pile…

Two Stories in One: Driftwood and Poppy’s Dilemma

Earlier in the year, Tam J got on a bit of a roll, enjoying a few rural romances back to back. Lucky for us too, as it means that today I can bring you two reviews for the price of one! Here’s what Tam has been reading, first up, Mandy Magro’s Driftwood (Harlequin)…

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Taylor is a city girl, born and bred, but deep down she knows there is more, something a little more country. It’s always been her dream to be a jillaroo and to sing country songs. Despite pretty unrelenting pressure from her mum and step-dad to forget these dreams she loads her guitar and her beloved dog, Floyd, into her car and hits the road. Taylor doesn’t have a plan…she just drives.

driftwoodTo Taylor Whitworth, knowing that she’ll never meet her biological father is devastating. All she knows is that before he died, he was a stockman. Taylor yearns to be like her father — and to become a jillaroo. So she packs her bags and hits the road, destination unknown, until she happens upon the country township of Driftwood.   

Life-burdened Jay Donnellson is a cowboy through and through. Both his passion for the outback and bad boy image have been inherited from his forefathers. The whole town whispers about him but Jay doesn’t care…until his rough and tumble lifestyle is stopped dead in its tracks when he happens across Taylor on a deserted country road.   

When Jay offers Taylor a job as a jillaroo on his cattle station, their mutual love of horses helps to form a bond between them. It’s not long before they find their wonderful friendship developing into something more.   

Mandy Magro cleverly tells two stories within Driftwood. The first is set in the mid 1800s and focuses on a bushranger named William who is on the run after being falsely accused of the murders of a local family. William is in love with Anne, landlady of the local hotel and he plans to take them both away from their troubles.

The second story is set in the present day and Magro very comfortably places these two stories alongside one another. Each tale has its own cliffhangers set to keep you reading.  She entwines both narratives until they each meet at Waratah Station.

Heartbroken and troubled, Jay is in charge of Waratah Station and he has faced his fair share of tragedy. He has vowed to protect himself from more hurt. As you might expect, this includes shutting out Taylor. Still, he can’t help by wonder if this will only deny himself happiness? And even if he tries to block her out, would it even be possible? They seem destined for each other from their very first meeting!

At times this story was a little clichéd and the writing was a little messy, but I enjoyed the two takes on this story, giving the reader a touch of the historical as well as injecting real-to-life and easily relatable characters.

I love a good bit of ‘Chook Lit’, and this story ticked all the boxes. If you’d like to find out more about Mandy Magro’s novel, you can visit Harlequin’s website here.

Shortly after reading Driftwood, I moved onto Poppy’s Dilemma, by Karly Lane (Allen and Unwin).

I completed adored this novel! This was partly due to the story of Poppy and of Maggie, but also because it took me back to a place of my childhood, a place of beautiful memories of growing up spending time with my Nan, learning to bake, being part of a small town and hearing Nan’s own childhood stories.

poppy's dilemmaPoppy Abbott seems to have it all. Bright, successful and attractive, she lives in a beautiful apartment with sweeping views of Sydney. However, since the recent death of her beloved grandmother, she’s been struggling to come to terms with her grief.

Feeling nostalgic one evening, Poppy decides to sort through her grandmother’s belongings, which she hasn’t been able to face before. She’s hardly started when she comes across an old leather diary with the name ‘Maggie Abbott’ written in the front. It’s not long before she’s drawn into Maggie’s life and her fears for her soldier boyfriend during the First World War.

As her interest in Maggie’s diary intensifies, Poppy decides to spend some time at her grandmother’s house in the country. Away from the city, Poppy begins to wonder if all the things she’s always valued so much are what she really wants out of life. And then love intervenes…

Karly Lane manages a beautiful balance within the story between present and past. When Poppy begins to read Maggie’s diary we are taken on a trip back to the 1910s, and it is nothing short of fascinating. As a reader, I was given an way into sharing their experience; the pressures that the Australian families were put under when their loved ones went away to war; the roles that would have traditionally been filled by men that needed to be filled by women in their absence; the judgement reserved for the men who, for whatever reason chose not to go and fight; and the tragic and all too frequent loss of the men who didn’t make it home alive. The tragic love story of Maggie and Alex had me completely captivated. Perhaps the much of my fascination about Maggie’s story came from the fact that it was based on a true story that the author read about in an old newspaper clipping. As it happened, the story had taken place in her own home town… hence inspiring this novel.

Poppy’s Dilemma also follows the blossoming romance between Poppy and Jim. Poppy has been hurt and lives life without attachment so as to avoid being let down again. But her handsome country-boy neighbour may just change all of that…

This story has it all; mistakes, intrigue, history, healing and of course romance! And to top it all off it was set in a small town of Australia so it was easily relatable. It was truly beautiful.

To find out more about Poppy’s Dilemma, check out the Allen and Unwin website here…

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Tam is currently reading Charlotte’s Creek by Therese Creed (Allen and Unwin) and she’s promised to let us know all about it soon! Find out more here

Oh Emily: Time Will Tell

TBYL Reviewer Tam Jenkin was very excited when this book came her way…

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This beautiful story, Time Will Tell by Fiona McCallum (Harlequin) is the second instalment in The Button Jar series by Fiona McCallum. I read the first story, Saving Grace last year and loved it and after eagerly awaiting the second book, I was not disappointed.

time will tell

Emily Oliphant has made some drastic changes in her life. She’s ditched her abusive husband and embarked on her own adventure, renovating a dilapidated property and starting up her own business. Against all odds, she’s found a sense of place and purpose, but is still too scarred by her past to form any romantic attachments, regardless of who’s vying for her attention.

Now she’s received an offer from the elderly owners of her beloved rented home to buy the property, land and all. Hopeful and tentative, Emily feels she is taking a step in the right direction, although is unsure how she will raise the money.  Except Emily holds a button jar – a gift from her recently deceased Granny Mayfair – which, unbeknownst to her, could contain the solution to all her problems…

But just when Emily thought things were beginning to go her way, everything takes a turn. Soon, she’s involved in a romance she thought she had no time for and dealing with the shock of two unexpected deaths, forcing her to make some difficult decisions. With her finances, her property, her friendships and her budding relationship now hanging in limbo, Emily is once again drawing on her inner strength to overcome a new set of challenges.

I was extremely impressed that this book picked up at exactly the place that Saving Grace finished, meaning that I didn’t feel that I had missed out on any of the journey, and I was quickly drawn back into the story. Again, Emily is our leading lady and her story is filled with tragedy, tough decisions, and a further journey of self discovery.

Emily has to decide whether she should take up the offer to buy the old house she is living in and possibly make her dreams of running a Bed & Breakfast a reality. She just can’t work out how she will afford it. Emily’s mother is still making her undermine her own abilities, but with the help of her Dad, her best friend Barbara and the handsome Jake who comes visiting again from Melbourne, she begins to learn how to stand up to her mother and stop listening so closely to all whispering voices of self-doubt.

Just as she thinks decisions have been made tragedy strikes, leaving Emily in shock and also with the possibility of a farm to care for. Emily finds she is a topic of town gossip again and this has her making some decisions which leave her lonely and questioning everything all over again!

While reading, I did feel that sometimes Emily needed a good shake to get her to see clearly – I really didn’t want to mess up her budding new relationship with Jake. I felt slightly anxious about all the issues that Emily had to deal with and wanted to tell her ‘just one thing at a time, Em’. Fiona McCallum writes beautifully and again she swept me away with her descriptions of country living. I wanted to take early morning walks on the farm with Emily, and I wanted to sit down and have a cuppa with her and Barbara. This book very nearly had me packing my bags to make the country move myself!

We get answers about Emily’s Gran’s button jar and the mystery of “seven of Golconda’s finest”. Jake continues to take a stronger role in Emily’s life and in the story. I enjoyed watching this character develop. I also enjoyed the way Fiona McCallum tells a love story without it all being pages of description about what happens in the bedroom. A beautiful novel filled with romance, inner strength and above all, friendship.

Meant To Be is the third instalment of The Button Jar series, and is due for release in November 2014…and I can’t wait!!!

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If you’d like to find out more about Time Will Tell by Fiona McCallum check it out at Harlequin Books today.