Be my guest

Meeting Claire Scobie

Last night, we held another fantastic online event where we got together on FB to enjoy a conversation with the very talented Claire Scobie, author of the transporting The Pagoda Tree (Penguin).

In case you weren’t able to tune in on the night, here’s a transcript of our chat with Claire…

TBYL: Okay, my first question for Claire is this… I was wondering, why did you choose this story to tell as your first novel?

claire_scobie_headshot_mid-res_mediumClaire: After writing Last Seen in Lhasa I had that classic second book syndrome. My travel memoir grew out of my 7 journeys to Tibet and my friendship with this wandering Tibetan nun. It was unrepeatable. So what to write next? I’ve always been fascinated by India where I’ve lived and worked as a journalist. Then I read a story in the Sydney Morning Herald about the ‘last courtesan’ of India. I was intrigued. I didn’t know there were such women in India and I wanted to know more. While temple dancers or devadasis have been compared to the geishas of Japan it is their connection to the temples that make them unique and I was fascinated by their role in society. They seemed to operate between the worlds of sacredness, culture and sensuality. Initially I planned to write a non-fiction book about these women but with so few sources available – and a secret desire to write a novel, haven’t we all had that?! – I decided to take the leap to fiction.

TBYL: That combination of sacredness, culture and sensuality was really beautifully done in your book, I thought. Tell me, what do you think you would have done differently if it had been non-fiction book?

Claire: That’s an interesting question. I think I would have had that combination of the above in a non-fiction book but it would have lacked the sense of who these women really were. It would have been much more a history of the figure of the devadasi rather than an attempt to capture their inner lives.

TBYL: Do you think then that the character of Maya was vital to capturing that sense of who they were?

Claire: YesI think so. Funnily enough, Maya wasn’t the first character who ‘came to me’. It was Walter: the troubled English Reverend. It wasn’t until I’d gone back to Thanjavur (Tanjore) and retraced Maya’s footsteps that I began to get a sense of her. I also decided I needed to go back to the beginning of her life as a way to understand her development into adulthood. So yes Maya was vital.

TBYL: That’s interesting, I actually kept getting distracted away from Walter, I found the women so fascinating. Can you tell us a little of where the character of Walter came from?

Claire: I love that you found the women’s stories and complexities so interesting. But about Walter, I have a soft spot for him. He really came from this idea of someone who went to India a very closed, traumatised man (although he wouldn’t have seen it like that) and during his time there, the country seeped into his soul. I read about many Europeans like him who were transformed by India – despite their prejudices. So he was drawn from those individuals.

TBYL: I think India is still transforming for many Europeans (and others) seeking change. Would you agree?

Claire: Yes definitely. It seems to have a lasting impact on people.

TBYL: Following on from our first question, how did you go about learning so much about the temple dancers?

Claire: I made four research trips to India, starting with a visit to Thanjavur (Tanjore). On the exterior walls of the eleventh-century ‘Big temple’, the names and addresses of 400 devadasis are inscribed. As a writer I loved the fact that the presence of these women is still evident today. They were real people. Real women. I spent time seeking out where they would have lived. I went to the palace and interviewed the current Prince. As we were drinking tea he told me that we were sitting in the harem where my character Palani would have languished. I also spent weeks at the India Office Records in the British Library in London and at some Indian libraries. I took a dual approach – both doing the archival research and then ‘history with my feet’. That’s how my characters really came alive for me. I am a tactile person so I needed to go to where they went as a way to re-imagine their lives.

TBYL: I thought that your research must have been ‘with your feet’ as you put it – it was so detailed. Do you think you would have been able to put this story together without the visits?

Claire: I don’t think so. I know some writers don’t go to the places they write about but as a trained journalist, I’d find that hard. Nearly all of the homes in the book – for example where Maya lives with her patron Mudaliar and the grand garden house where Thomas and Maya live are based on real eighteenth-century houses that I visited. Once I had a visual of their homes, the characters also became more real for me.

pagodaTBYL: I’d love to see those!! Can you tell us, did you find Maya, Lakshmi or Palani’s names in the temple?

Claire: Yes, particular the garden house is very special. It’s actually a school now and I wasn’t really supposed to go there. I went anyhow and then got chased out by an irate fist-waving security guard! The things you have to do to research a book… I didn’t find either of Lakshmi or Maya’s names in the temple but the name Palani actually comes from ‘Muddupalani’ who was a real 18th-century courtesan who lived in the palace at Tanjore. That’s who this character is based on.

TBYL: I read in another review of your book, about the tradition of ‘shaking the pagoda tree’ – could you tell us a little more about what that means?

Claire: The title of The Pagoda Tree is inspired by a phrase popular among the English in the eighteenth-century. The word pagoda had a double meaning. It was both a temple and a gold coin. When Englishmen went to India they went to make their fortune. Literally to shake the pagoda tree or the tree of money. In my novel I explore the theme of currency. The book is set at the start of global capitalism and the free market. It was a time when everything was up for grabs, everything could be bought and sold – including the local women.

TBYL: I found that theme really interesting, particularly the difference between the notion of wealth to foreigners vs locals. I got the feeling that the ‘natives’ were very much looked down upon by the English, despite having their own quite impressive wealth (or access to others with wealth) Was this deliberate?

Claire: Yes it was deliberate. What’s fascinating about that period is the meeting point between cultures and that was central to the book. I really wanted to look at the slant of history – history from the Indian perspective (as much as I could). And part of that was this contrasting view of success and wealth. Maya’s Indian lover was incredibly wealthy and well-connected but from the English perspective, they couldn’t often get past the colour of his skin. So it was about inverting traditional ideas of ‘us and them’.

TBYL: Your book is proving very popular with book clubs. I was wondering, if there was just one question you’d like a book club to ask after reading ‘The Pagoda Tree’ what would it be?

Claire: That’s great to hear, Mandi! Since I wrote it, quite a few readers have asked me if there will be a sequel – or if I wrote it with that in mind. I have to say I didn’t. Only at the very end did I see that as a possibility. So my question to book clubs would be … What do you think might be the next chapter in her story? All suggestions welcome!

TBYL: Oh, that’s an incredible question! It really ends at the start of a whole new story doesn’t it?!

Claire: Yes it does. I thought that would be a really fun question to ask people. I know that some authors write like this – can’t remember the name for it – where they get their fans and readers to suggest the next plot event.

TBYL: Mmm, do you mean fan-fiction maybe? Not sure…

Claire: Yes that’s it. I wouldn’t want to do that, but I know when I finish a book, the characters often live on in my head and I imagine scenarios for them – so I would be interested to hear what scenarios readers might imagine for Maya.

TBYL: So do you think you might write about Maya again?

Claire: I’m not sure at this stage. She is still ‘with me’ as a character but I want to have break for a while. I get a sense though that there are things still to be said… and written… which involve her. Does that sound weird or what?!

TBYL: No, I think that makes a lot of sense, she was such a beautifully developed character.

Claire: Thank you!

TBYL: Claire, can you tell us, what do you like to read?

Claire: I tend to go through phases of different authors. For a while I was mad on magical realism, then on Chinese authors, then on historical fiction. I read a fair amount of Indian authors while researching The Pagoda Tree. I also read lots of travel memoir as I’m interested in the moments when cultures meet – I think it has as much relevance for the eighteenth-century as it does for us today. It is all about how we project ourselves into the world and how we look at others – and how we are reflected back. That’s another theme in my novel.

TBYL: Do you have a favourite?

Claire: Favourites are hard. A few that come to mind – Half of Man is Woman, The Kingdom of this World, 100 Years of Solitude, Tracks.

TBYL: So my last question for tonight is this (as usual)… Claire, do you have any other projects on the go at the moment? What can we look forward to seeing next?

Claire: Yes I do. I’m working on another travel memoir and have already started planning out my next novel. It’s historical fiction again and I’m excited about it! Not so much India this time… I am normally quite shy about what I am writing until I am well into the project.

TBYL: Fair enough, I think most writers are that way. Anyway, it’d ruin the surprise if you gave too much away.

Claire: Exactly. There’s a lot of ‘brewing’ and ‘cooking’ that goes on in the process.

… and with that we hit 8:30pm and I thought we’d better wrap it up, although I’m sure we could have chatted all night. I’m hoping she might visit again and share some of her travel stories with us!

If you’d like to read my review of Claire’s book, you’ll find it here. I’d also strongly recommend that you follow Claire on Twitter – she’s got lots of lovely things to say.

Thanks to everyone who tuned in last night, and to all, stay tuned for further information about TBYL’s next event!

 

 

 

 

October TBYL Book Club and a Chat with Claire

Oh my god, it’s ten days into October!! How did that happen?

Were you wondering what book we’re reading for this month’s TBYL Book Club? Well if you were, it’s a beautiful book that I’m sure you’ll love! This month we’re going to be reading Claire Scobie’s The Pagoda Tree (Penguin)…

pagodaMaya dances like no other. She becomes the dance . . . Her dance can steal a man’s soul.

Tanjore, 1765. Maya plays among the towering granite temples of this ancient city in the heart of southern India. Like her mother before her, she is destined to become adevadasi, a dancer for the temple. She is instructed in dance, the mystical arts and lovemaking. It is expected she will be chosen as a courtesan for the prince himself.
 
But as Maya comes of age, India is on the cusp of change and British dominance has risen to new heights. The prince is losing his power and the city is sliding into war. Maya is forced to flee her ancestral home, and heads to the bustling port city of Madras, where East and West collide. 
 
Maya captivates all who watch her dance. Thomas Pearce, an ambitious young Englishman who has travelled to India to make his fortune, is entranced from the moment he first sees her. But their love is forbidden, and comes at enormous cost.

Weaving together the uneasy meeting of two cultures, The Pagoda Tree is a captivating story of love, loss and fate.

If you’d like to join in, the discussion will be happening on our Facebook page, starting Monday 28 October through to 30 October. Plus I’m really excited about the fact that we’ll be chatting with Claire too!

Our next TBYL Event is a live Facebook chat with Claire herself. I can’t wait, it’s happening on Monday 28 October, 7:30pm (EST) and you can RSVP here…

I hope you’ll join us!

Pick up a copy of Claire’s book here, and click here to get a reminder when we start chatting about this wonderful novel.

Hot and bothered with Sylvia Day

It looks like I missed out on a couple treats when I handed over today’s books to TBYL Reviewer Fiona! She’s been taking a wild ride with two Sylvia Day novels…

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At a recent reviewer catch-up with Mandi, I unwittingly picked up a couple of romance novels by Sylvia Day to review, only to find that they were, well, rather hot and bothersome.

entwined with youSylvia Day is an international best-selling author and has been described by Fox News as “one of the most successful romance writers in the world.”  I think it would be fair to say that the two books I’m reviewing, Don’t Tempt Me and Entwined With You, are much more than just simple romance.

Unlike many other people I know who found the prose of E.L. James to be a little bit non-literary and a tad overwrought, I really enjoyed the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy and read the three books over a four-day thirty-year High School reunion long weekend in Fremantle last year. Even though the lead character Anastasia Steele is a young woman just about to graduate from college, I believe that there’s not so much about the 50 Shades books that would appeal to young women, but rather; it’s a pure fantasy ride for middle-aged chicks, like me. The sort of what-could-have-been story, if only we’d valued ourselves a bit more, been a bit more willing to try things, the ‘pathway not taken’ sort of thing. I myself have my own Christian Grey path that I didn’t take and every now and then I wonder what would have happened if I had?

Titillation and adventure is what is going on in both these Sylvia Day novels, although the settings and historical contexts could not be more different.  Like the E.L. James books, I found these books virtually impossible to put down, they are so readable, and really quite naughty, in a non-drudge kind of way.

Entwined with You is the third in the Crossfire books, a series that has sold over 6 million copies so far. I haven’t read the previous two Crossfire novels, however Sylvia Day’s clippy and jovial style means that it’s not really necessary to have done so. The two main characters are Eva and Gideon, both damaged by childhood abuse and both seeking to move beyond those harmful experiences and enter into a grown-up and normal relationship with each other. Gideon is a New York property-billionaire kind of dude who seems to be able to have anything and anyone at any time he wants, though for some reason that is unfathomable, he only really wants Eva.

Eva is a smart and sassy kind of gal with bucketloads of attitude, a clear head and the capability to not panic and just get on with things when the going gets tough, which is pretty unlike Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades books. That said, there are numerous borrowings of Fifty Shades motifs that are probably there to excite those who have read E.L James books, a little bit of post-modernist cross-pollination.

The dominant theme of Entwined with You is around the many obstacles that are thrown in the path of Eva and Gideon, and how they still keep finding ways to both be together and to get it on together. This is how some of the titillation goes:

“I loved him wild and I loved him tender. I’d take him any way I could get him, but it’d been so long… My skin was already tingling and tightening expectantly, craving the greedy reverence of his touch. I feared what would happen if he came at me full force when I was so starved for his body. We might tear each other apart.”

Of course it gets way more graphic than this, however quoting some of the really blue prose in Entwined with You isn’t really kosher on a family blog like That Book You Like. One of the qualities I like immensely about Entwined with You is the feeling of being in New York with the heroine; from her Krav Maga (a brutal martial arts practice developed in Israel) sessions in Brooklyn; to her incredibly bouncy sex sessions in her lover’s apartment, through to the doorman in the apartment block, and the really hip and cool lifestyles of the twentysomethings that dominate the book. I mean, where else would you find a bisexual best friend named Cary who’s dating both a guy and a girl, who also happens to be a super hotty and features on underwear billboards? A flatmate like this is much more likely to be found in New York, New York than Melbourne I think.

A fun read, very sassy, lots of sexy stimulation and if your life is feeling a bit boring at the moment, a quick read of Entwined with You by Sylvia Day is the perfect wake-up!

The other book by Sylvia Day that I read in this batch was set in a totally different era, and the sex scenes were in some ways much more delectable. For me there’s nothing like a bit of period drama to add a certain frisson to a book or television drama.

don't tempt meDon’t Tempt Me is a riveting romance novel. It’s an adventurous story and Sylvia Day’s female characters are mainly strong and capable, even the damaged or deceived ones. Set in 1757 and then 1780 in Paris, at a time when Benjamin Franklin (one of the founding fathers of the United States and in the 1780s the United States Ambassador to France) Day delivers a rocking rip through a historic time that in this story seemed to be transitioning out of the economics of the kingdom into the economics of the merchant. This transition is nicely demonstrated through the leading male protagonist, Simon Quinn, the mercenary. The story is nicely set against the back-drop of the start of capitalism as we know it now.

Ben Franklin is representative of a political motif in the book, and thereby it’s just his name that matters. It’s his researcher and analyst, the very solemn and stern but capable Edward James who is one of the key manly characters in this read. It is in James that we see the representation of level-headedness, certainty and moral rectitude that is probably a metaphor for the emerging place that the United States of America is exerting in global politics at this time.

One of the most admirable qualities in Sylvia Day’s writing is the open lust and admiration for the male body that is running through the minds of her female characters. For the main part these are not women who hang around waiting to be conquered and then ‘lie back and think of England’, seeing their role as to ‘do the marital duty’. They are full-blooded, mainly young women caught between the dictates and constraints of polite society and their own raging lust. Fortunately for the reader, their lust wins out in the story. For example, there is a particular heroine, a 23 year old virgin named Lynette Baillon, standing behind a fern at a rather licentious party in Paris, who spys the hero Quinn…

“He was the sort of man who could enslave a woman with a single glance.

A glance such as the one he was presently giving to her.

Lynette Baillon watched the notorious Simon Quinn with similar shamelessness, admiring the raven blackness of his hair and the brilliant blue of his eyes.

Quinn lounged further against the fluted column in the Baroness Orlinda’s ballroom, his arms crossing his broad chest and one ankle hooked carelessly over the other. He looked both leisurely and alert, a dichotomy she had noted the first time she saw him riding through the moonlit Parisian streets…”

And minutes later, with Quinn not understanding exactly who he was attracting the attention of…

“Her blood felt hot now. Her chest rose and fell rapidly in response to his stare. Her heart raced. That a stranger could incite such a response in her despite the crowd that surrounded them and the distance separating them only exacerbated her reaction.

Then he straightened abruptly and approached with a predator’s easy, yet determined gait. His long legs ate up the space between them, his pathway direct and unconcerned with those who were forced to move out of his way. She inhaled sharply, her palms dampening within her gloves.”

Of course the text gets a whole lot bluer than this, however I think this snap-shot demonstrates that while Lynette is indeed an inexperienced young gentlewoman, she is not without an imagination that encompasses fully-fledged erotic fantasy, which in the course of the book is realised in practice.

The title of this novel, Don’t Tempt Me comes from words uttered by the hero Quinn when against the odds, all the societal obstacles put in the way of his courting Lynette Baillon have been turned upside down and surprisingly he holds himself back and decides to court her for marriage in a rather old-fashioned way.

This book is a rollicking adventure story set at an interesting time in history, in the world’s most romantic city Paris, with hot blooded characters who stride across both the bourgeoisie, the political classes and the mercantile classes. Oh and with worried parents of very comely daughters and a superb plot using twins to great effect.

One to enjoy as a secret journey to another time and place when the kids and partner are driving you up the wall during the school holidays. Sit back with Don’t Tempt Me and think of Paris!

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I’ve got the most recent Sylvia Day novel on the reading list, In The Flesh. Do you think I should pass it on to Fiona?

If you’d like to find out more about Sylvia Day’s books from Penguin, you can read more here.

Breaking Point: Ambition

At our last reviewer get together, TBYL Reviewer Narelle grabbed today’s book the first chance she got, sure that she’d seen it some place before. And indeed she had…

Originally published in the 80s Julie Burchill’s Ambition has been recently re-released by Allen and Unwin in order, I can only assume, to attempt to satisfy the appetites of a new generation of readers who, in 2013 discovered an insatiable desire for erotic adventure.

No taboo is left unbroken, no fantasy left unfulfilled in this shocking expose of the lengths to which one woman will go become editor of the UK’s bestselling tabloid.

It’s a saucy adult read, but as you’ll see below, Narelle was most definitely of the opinion that this novel is also a compelling story, in retrospect almost a period piece, over and above the raunch…

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“I’m sick of breaking bimbos – it’s no fun, no challenge. Strong, hard career girls – they’re the new filet mignon of females. Girls like you. Oh, I’m going to have fun breaking you, Susan.”

ambition

Tobias Pope ruled his communications empire with fear and loathing – his employees feared him and he loathed them. But he may have met his match in Susan Street, the young, beautiful and nakedly ambitious deputy of his latest newspaper acquisition. As they fight, shop and orgy from Soho to Rio and from Sun City to New York City, getting what she wants – the top job – seems so simple. If she doesn’t break first.

Susan Street has the editorship of the Sunday Best, a London tabloid with rising readership, firmly in her sights.

Having done time in the deputy chair, she’s more than ready to take over – until the sudden death of her boss. With a new and fearsome owner in Tobias Pope, Susan suddenly has to prove her fierce ambition and willingness to do anything to secure the covered role.

Susan makes a Rumpelstiltskin-like bargain with Tobias, agreeing to perform 6 unnamed tasks. If she can complete them, the job she wants so desperately will be hers. Tobias sets out to “break” Susan and make her question just what she will or won’t do in the name of Ambition.

Though Julie Burchill’s novel is set and was written in the late 80’s, her sharply drawn portrait of modern workplaces, relationships and dilemmas is as relevant now as it was over 20 years ago. Reminiscent of Lee Tulloch and Candace Bushnell, Ambition is a rollicking read that offers both rampant escapism and biting social commentary.

If you’re looking for a read to take on holiday, on the train or even just to take you away from the world for while, go along for the ride with Susan Street – it’s a highly enjoyable one, fabulously adult – in the author’s own words, “…even now, it makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like Anne of Green Gables.”

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You can find out more about Ambition here…

 

Meeting Christie Thompson

Last night, we held another great online event, this time chatting with Christie Thompson, author of the striking coming-of-age novel Snake Bite (Allen and Unwin). Christie joined us on Facebook, where we were able to find out more about what compelled her to write this gritty novel and how Canberra locals have reacted to her portrayal of their suburban landscapes.

In case you weren’t able to tune in on the night, here’s a transcript of our chat with Christie…

TBYL: To start off the questions tonight, a broad one… Christie, can you please give us a little insight into what compelled you to write Snake Bite?

0_Thompson_ChristieChristie: I was thinking big. I wanted to write a coming-of-age story that would define a generation of teenagers. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded in doing that, but the novel is definitely very contemporary and it captures a pretty specific moment in time. It is also quite pertinent to what teenage girls are going through now. I was reading a lot of pop-feminism, like Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs and Emily Maguire’s Princesses and Pornstars.

TBYL: Did you speak with teenagers themselves?

Christie: I was also influenced by the way television portrays sexuality in young women. Shows like Jersey Shore and Ladette to Lady influenced the voyeuristic tone of Snake Bite, so that was my ‘research’ more than talking to teens. But I live in a group house with people around my characters’ ages. So that helped in capturing the tone.

TBYL: The ‘moment of time’ component was very interesting I thought – very contemporary, but as a reader I could also identify with some of the the Mum’s time-markers (music, tv etc). Was that deliberate?

Christie: Yes, it was deliberate. The 1990s, when Jez’s Mum was a teenager suddenly seems like a lifetime ago, even though Helen is only 33 (in 2009). It makes older readers realise the significance of time passing, and that there are currently a new generation going through the same things we went through in prevous decades.

TBYL: I found that absolutely fascinating Christie, although it made me feel a little old!

Christie: It makes me feel old too, Mandi. I am closer in age to Helen than Jez, which helped in making the references to the 1990s authentic!

TBYL Reader, Andy: Christie, I’ve read a few conflicting reviews about your book. I haven’t read it yet myself. What I would like to know is what was your initial target age group for this book and did it change once you finished writing it?

Christie: I’m not sure what conflicting views you are referring to, but am very interested to find out! Snake Bite was written as adult literature, not YA. That was my intention, and hasn’t changed. You will find it in the adult section, not in young adult.

TBYL Reader, Andy: One review said it should be in schools as essential reading and another stated for early 20’s and older.

Christie: It contains quite a lot of swearing, drug/alcohol use and some pretty tame sex. I’m not sure if that will wash on the school’s curriculum, but I have given several author talks to school age kids (Years 7-12). It’s really not as shocking as Puberty Blues, though…They were 13 year old having sex in the back of panel vans!

TBYL: Christie, how much of the book is based on your own experiences of Canberra, and did you get much ‘push-back’ from the locals?

Christie: I have lived in Canberra all my life, but to be honest the book was less an examination of Canberra as ‘place’, than suburbia as place. In that sense, it really could have been set in any remote outer-suburban enclave. The locals have been GREAT so far! They are very interested to see their neighbourhoods in fiction and have been so supportive. Overwhelmingly the response has been that it is a bit of a negative representation of Canberra, but also very accurate!

TBYL: I thought that might be the case – have you had any feedback from readers regarding whether they identify with the place (and the players), even those not in Canberra?

snake biteChristie: I’ve had mostly good feedback, which is a bit annoying. As a writer, I really wanted to get a dialogue going, and be controversial. It seems people are just loving it. Give me more backlash, I reckon.

TBYL: Ha! I’m surprised that you’ve not got a little bit, it’s a pretty harsh picture that you paint.

Christie: Sure, it has been observed that it is ‘gritty’ etc. Maybe people are being polite? I wish they’d tell me what they REALLY think and I’d love to hear that it got a discussion going. For example the scene where Jez assaults the guy at the party…is she warranted in those actions? Is Casey really a ‘slut’? Does Lukey deserve Jez’s forgiveness? Does Casey?

TBYL: I loved the fact that Jez belted the guy! I’d love to know what other people thought. The ‘slut’ issue is so much more complex… I’d hate to be ‘slut-shaming’ but it’s pretty realistic that peers would label each other like that.

Christie: Exactly. I think it is a complex issue. I hate the term ‘slut’, but it is a term certainly relevant and ubiquitously applied by teenage girls.

TBYL: It’s really complex when Casey starts accusing Jez of being a slut. My immediate reaction was… ‘pot calling kettle black’ but then I felt ashamed of myself…

Christie: Or are they both warranted in exploring their sexuality in their own manner? It’s not clear cut… I tried hard not to be didactic, just to show my characters ‘finding’ themselves, so to speak…

TBYL: True. I think you balanced it very well.

TBYL: How do you feel about the ‘coming of age’ tag that is used to describe your novel?

Christie: That’s fine, really. The coming-of-age novel is a longstanding tradition in literature, although it is overwhelmingly from the male perspective. I believe there was a term called ‘bildungsroman’ (hope that’s right?) in German applied centuries ago to the male coming-of-age novel. The female perspectives are too few and far between, in my opinion. That is probably why my book has been so compared to Puberty Blues.

TBYL: I think you’re right, hard to think of others… I’m sure they must be out there though? Surely?

Christie: Looking for Alibrandi (very tame, though, and YA)… My Brilliant Career

TBYL: Did you consciously work to have Snake Bite help fill that literary gap?

Christie: No, not really, although I think it possibly does fill a gap! I’d always enjoyed the coming-of-age novel. It’s such an interesting time in one’s life, full of self-discovery and a really unique way of seeing one’s world, at that time!

TBYL: Did you want us to like Jez? I know that I did…

Christie: I hope people like her! She is a bit petulant at times, but also very dry, funny and vulnerable (despite her tough exterior).

TBYL: I’d challenge anyone to find any teenager who isn’t petulant at times!

Christie: Definitely. And who wants to read about characters who are perfectly sweet and nice and never have any conflicts! Not me!  I hope people can relate with her. I had a great time writing in her voice. She (and the other characters) became so real to me, it is almost like they are friends of mine. Does that make me a little mad? Maybe. When I finished the manuscript it was bittersweet. Great to have finished but also I knew I wouldn’t get to spend time hanging out with Jez, Lukey, Casey, Helen and the rest anymore…

TBYL: I’d be interested to know, who influences you as a writer? Do you have a favourite author/book?

Christie: I love Australian lit, gritty realism stuff. Texts that tackle meaty societal issues and have good subtext that gets you thinking. Some of my favourites are Kate Grenville (Lilian’s Story, Dark Places) and I like Christos Tsiolkas, Michel Houllebecq, Tim Winton… So many authors… Of course the coming of age novel. And I love many classics too. Hemingway, Austen, Toni Morrison, Ian McEwen. My bookshelves are overflowing.

Today I bought a Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Harris and another Kate Grenville. I did a double major in English lit at uni and am *nearly* finished a PhD. Reading widely is enjoyable.

TBYL: What was the last thing that you read?

Christie: I am reading through Thomas Harris’s books. Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and next I’m be reading Hannibal. I tend to get stuck on an author and read heaps of their stuff. Recently was impressed by Joyce Carol Oates and Cormac McCarthy, so I will be seeking more of both of them!

TBYL: I’ll ask one last question. I always have to ask, what’s next for Christie Thompson?

Christie: I have so many things I want to do, and writing another novel is high on that list. I’ve got some ideas and just need to find the time/space/money to get another project off the ground.

It was fantastic to chat to Christie, and I can’t wait to see what she puts together for her next novel!

If you’d like to read the TBYL review of Snake Bite, you’ll find it here. If you’d like to pick up a copy of the book, visit A&U here…

And of course, stay tuned for our next online TBYL Event, coming up at the end of October!

 

 

Searching: The Sweetest Hallelujah

I’m always thrilled to read stories of readers being really moved by a book, being drawn in and touched by the plight of the characters.  It’s not surpising then that I very much enjoyed today’s review from Kate, of the wonderful period piece The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey (Harlequin)…

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It is 1945 in Mississippi, America is in the midst of racial violence and prejudice, it’s the time of KKK, lynch mobs and segregation. It is here we meet the once beautiful and renowned jazz singer Betty Jewel Hughes, who, now ravaged by cancer, is desperately and heartbreakingly looking for someone to take care of her 10 year old daughter, Billie, when she dies.

sweetestRecently widowed Cassie Malone lives on the ‘good’ side of town and despite her wealth and white upper class privilege is outspoken and sure of her beliefs against racial discrimination.

Desperate and feeling helpless Betty Jewel does the unthinkable and puts an ad in the local paper:

Desperate. Nowhere to turn. Dying woman seeks mother for her child. Loving heart required….

Cassie has had her fair share of heartbreak, and unable to have her own children is instantly captivated by the ad. Billie herself just wants to be a ten year old girl, playing hopscotch and dolls without having to think about her mama dying. She sets off on her own adventure to find the man who she believes to be her father, hoping that he might be able to take care of her and make things better.

Against all odds and a society that is defined by racial tension, a remarkable friendship is forged by an unrelenting quest to protect and save a little girl. Elaine Hussey has written a beautiful portrayal of friendship and love and the bond that can be formed between women amidst heartbreak and betrayal.

Littered with reference to the brilliant jazz musicians of the time against a backdrop of the beautiful American South, we are transported though time and place to another period altogether.

The characters are believable and memorable, and the story is written with humour, heartbreak and at times, brutal honesty. The Sweetest Hallelujah is a lovely read, but you will need a box of tissues at the ready! If you loved The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, this book is definitely worth the read.

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Find out more about The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey here…

Friends like these: The Book Club

Today’s review is from TBYL Reviewer, Stephanie Hunt and by the seems of it, her latest read had her wanting more…

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When I began reading Mary Alice Monroe’s The Book Club (Harlequin) I was expecting a story of sisterhood, of camaraderie and shared interests. That’s not exactly what I found…

the book club”On the surface it’s a monthly book club. But for five women, it is so much more. For Eve whose husband’s sudden death cheats her of every security she has planned on, the club is a place of sanctuary. For Annie, a brilliant attorney intent on starting a family late in life, it is the chance to finally let down her guard and dream of other possibilities. For Doris, it is her support group as she acknowledges her dying marriage and finds the ultimate freedom in her husband’s betrayal. For Gabriella, the ‘perfect’ wife, mother and friend who offers support to everyone but is afraid to ask for it herself, it is a sense of community. And for Midge, an artist who has always lived her life against the grain, it is a haven of acceptance.”

It’s the story of five women, all going through good and bad times, their stories intertwining. It sounded great, and I was very excited to read this book as I wanted to find out about these characters. Having previously read books that worked with the stories of multiple characters, I was looking forward to a good read from a New York Times bestseller.

The book introduces the characters well and I was hooked straight away, I wanted to find out more. At the beginning of the story, Eve’s husband unexpectedly passes away and when she fall in a heap her friends try to pull her through. As a reader, I felt as though I was able to sit on the sofa with her as she struggled to pull her self out of her all-encompassing grief. The book club members rally to bring her round and as she continues on with life, a chance presents itself, to explore the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death and his history. As it happens, it would seem that Eve was in fact only a small part of his life.

The problem was, I felt that this really fascinating thread of the story was glossed over a bit, and not really elaborated upon. This disappointed me as it had intrigued me, and I was left wondering if it would come up further into the book. It was not to be.

This was not the only time I felt as though opportunities to explore great storylines were passed by. The characters of Gabriella and Midge were beautifully written and had some excellent topical issues challenging them in their lives, but these topics were not explored. These two characters, who I felt the most sympathy for and connection with, were really secondary characters to Doris, Annie and Eve.

Further, this trio of characters were not supportive of the others in the group, I felt that they whined a lot, were selfish and competitive and frankly quite shallow. Heaven help you if you were part of their book club!  At various stages I felt like giving them a slap. In short, I felt no empathy with these characters. Each time a chapter came up dealing with their lives I felt like skipping it to see if the next chapter dealt with Midge or Gabriella.

In saying this the story had me drawn in, even if it was out of some degree of frustration with these fairly unlikable characters, and of course, others may find the characters delightful, empathise with their troubles and be satisfied with the storylines. Still, I was left wanting more… more empathy, more details, more resolution.

If you’d like to find out more about Mary Alice Monroe’s The Book Club you can visit the Harlequin website here…

TBYL Event: Chatting with Christie Thompson

Yesterday I reviewed the edgy, coming-of-age novel Snake Bite (Allen and Unwin) by Canberra-based author Christie Thompson. You can read my review here if you missed it…

As a follow-up, I’m really excited to announce that I’ve been able to book in an online chat with Christie on the evening of Monday, 30 September 2013.

christie thompson college

It’s another TBYL Event that’s free, interactive, and online – a great chance to get to know another fantastic Australian author.

Christie will be chatting on the TBYL Facebook page on the evening of Monday, 30 September 2013 and you can join us at 7:30pm to ask Christie questions, and get involved in in the conversation.

It’s going to be a great opportunity to find out a little more about Christie, and about her no holds barred brand of story-telling.

If you’d like to make sure that you don’t forget to tune in, you can RSVP to the event here…

 

The Comfort of Lies

I’m welcoming another brand new TBYL Reviewer today, Katie Haden. Katie is a fellow book-lover, adores the classics and can’t wait to tell us all about how she’s reading differently with TBYL.

Today Katie is sharing her thoughts on the recently released The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers (Allen and Unwin)…

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I’ll admit, when I started reading The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers, I was a bit sceptical. I’m not a huge fan of traditional ‘chick lit’ and I tend to stick to the safety of the classics. But… if you’re like me, have no fear: in this novel Randy Susan Meyers takes you on a journey that is so personal and intriguing you won’t want to put the book down.

comfort of liesSet in Boston and surrounds, the book is as much a story of the city and its history as the people that call it home. Three women, from different areas, backgrounds and lifestyles are drawn together as the result of an affair six years ago. Tia is young, and gave up her daughter for adoption after having an affair with Nathan. Caroline, a doctor is the adoptive mother of Tia’s daughter, and doubts her ability or love for motherhood; and Juliette is Nathan’s wife, who discovers the truth about Tia and sets out to uncover all the facts.

All three women have different stories to tell. Some readers have said that when reading this book, they didn’t understand the point of view of one, or even two of the characters, but I loved all of them. They gave me a chance to see the same situation from three very different perspectives. I personally loved the character of Caroline, because she represented a voice that is often drowned out or too scared to speak up: the woman who isn’t sure about her instincts. Offering a unique perspective from the eyes of an adoptive mother, Meyers tackles the challenges of motherhood and work, and the guilt that sometimes comes from trying to choose both. Juliette similarly has to make decisions about her home life in order to fulfil the role of what she sees as the ‘perfect wife and mother’, while Tia must confront her past in order to move forward.

Overall, I think Meyers is showing the reader how deciding to tell little lies to protect people may at times be the right decision, whereas in other circumstances it may prove to be the worst possible course of action. All three main characters lack confidence and this in itself is one of the greatest challenges they must overcome. The Comfort of Lies has a powerful message about finding your voice and sharing a truth that should definitely be heard.

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If you’d like to find out more about The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers visit here…

 

In the wilds of Maine: The Poacher’s Son

Over the last month, I’ve been really lucky, recruiting a bunch of new TBYL Reviewers who, without exception love to read, read and read!

Today’s review is from our newest additions to the crew, Jennie Diplock-Storer. You can find out more about Jennie here, and today, you can read all about what she thought of The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron (Allen and Unwin)…

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I have a litmus test when it comes to assessing whether I’ll read books by authors unknown to me: I read the first couple of paragraphs. They have to grab me. Paul Doiron’s, The Poacher’s Son, did just that!

the poacher's sonSet in the wilds of Maine, this is an explosive tale of an estranged son thrust into the hunt for a murderous fugitive – his own father. Game warden Mike Bowditch returns home one evening to find an alarming voice from the past on his answering machine: his father Jack, a hard-drinking womanizer who makes his living from poaching illegal game. An even more frightening call comes the next morning from the police: they are searching for a cop-killer – and Mike’s father is their prime suspect.

Now, alienated from the woman he loves and shunned by colleagues who have no sympathy for the suspected cop killer, Mike must come to terms with his haunted past. He knows firsthand of his father’s brutality, but is he capable of murder? Desperate and alone, the only way for Mike to save his father is to find the real killer – which could mean putting everyone he loves into the line of fire…

The Poacher’s Son is placed in the genre of crime, but Doiron’s manner of writing makes it much more than that. His beautiful and detailed description of the Maine countryside through the eyes of the protagonist Mike Bowditch, is displayed throughout the book and adds much to it’s readability.

There is also much humour, a wonderful use of analogies, fulfilling descriptions of characters, (often making me smile), and a gentle prose.

Mike Bowditch is a Warden in Maine, legally protecting flora and fauna, and ensuring law abidence in waterways and hunting. Here is the obvious difference between father and son. Jack Bowditch is a poacher, estranged from his son since Mike was nine. The two occasions on which they were reunited stay stained in the memory of Mike by alcohol, violence, disrespect and blood.

It is obvious from the start that Mike has purposefully chosen a career in complete opposition to all his father stands for. Yet they both share a desire for seclusion, even if for different reasons. Jack has pathological differences with people of all walks of life and Mike chooses a “solitary & morbid profession” to avoid looking into himself and his past. Much of Mike’s decision to become a Law Officer was to make amends for his father’s petty crimes and violence.

So why then, when Jack Bowditch is accused of a double homicide, including the murder of a police officer known to Mike, then aggravated assault of a second officer as he escapes arrest, does Jack reach out to Mike and Mike fervently defend his father’s innocence?

Here is where things speed up, as Mike makes decisions impacting everything in his life to prove his father innocent.

History and storytelling amidst the chase of a suspect colours the book beautifully and is a bonus for the reader. The incredible description of the nature of Maine and the precise attention to detail stops this being a black and white crime book. We follow Mike Bowditch, who sees himself as not on the side of his dad or the cops but ” the rope in a tug of war”, as he tries to find the truth. It’s fast-paced, as Mike tries to find his father before the police do.

Published overseas in 2010, this was Doiron’s debut novel, met with much acclaim. He has since written two more. Now, with this Australian publication I highly recommend The Poacher’s Son to crime lovers, and to those who enjoy a good, well written book. Doiron hs certainly made it to my list of authors.

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If you’d like to find out more about The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron visit the Allen and Unwin website here…