Be my guest

Meeting Chris Allen

On Monday night, we held our first online TBYL Event, where we had a chance to chat with author Chris Allen. It was entertaining and informative, a fabulous insight into writing, reading and living an adventurous life.

Here’s how it happened…

TBYL: To start with… the links between yourself, your career and your writing absolutely fascinate me. Could you tell us a little more about how you came to writing, and the relationship that your work has with the stories that you tell?

Chris Allen Typing

Chris: Great question. It’s one of those chicken/egg scenarios I think. I’ve wanted to write from about the age of 14 or 15. I loved action movies and TV shows, obviously the Bond films became my favourites but back then you had to wait for them to be on TV rather than just going out and hiring the (dare I say it) video! So, the only real option for me was to find the books to read in between waiting for Bond movies to appear on TV. As soon as I read Ian Fleming’s ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – it was in the school library – I was hooked. Then it was a matter of wanting to lead a life that would enable me to write my own stories and one thing led to another…

TBYL: Do you think you would have been able to write the stories that you have without the real-life experiences that you’ve had?

Chris: There are many great authors – past & present – who have not actually led the lives of their protagonists yet they still manage to write fantastic stories. The crux of the issue is that people want to be entertained by the story. The ability to achieve that, the process of conveying the story is different for every writer. In my case, I was eager to get out and see the world and have some adventures of my own with the intent to write about it all at some point. In my case, as an errant teenager, anything I tried to write back then was just drivel. So, I think it was best that I waited for a while. As it turned out, I ended up getting my first book published when I was about the same age that Ian Fleming was when he had Casino Royale published.

TBYL: Did you ever find yourself in the middle of a place, event, adventure and thinking ‘wow, this’ll be a good story’?

Chris: Occasionally I did found myself saying ‘If I live through this I may just write about it!’

TBYL: Your characters are very likeable or loathsome, well developed and stay with you once you’ve finished reading the books. How do you go about building such a believable cast?

Chris: Thanks so much. I’m thrilled to hear that reaction. There are two sides to this. Firstly, I base my principal characters i.e. Alex Morgan and his compadres, on people I actually know very well. For the most part, these are people with whom I’m still very closely connected. So, its easy for me to describe them as they are – as you say, likeable and real. In terms of the loathsome creatures who from time to time inhabit my pages, I’ve also based some of them on people I have personal experience of. Of course, the antagonists really need to be, in my opinion, larger than life. So, I tend to draw of characteristics, attitudes or behaviours I seen in others that I don’t like and then infuse them into the larger than life evil-types who Morgan has to deal with.

TBYL: What do your friends think about being committed to page (the good guys I mean)?

Chris: I think the guys secretly love it, although they do like to chastise me a bit for taking liberties. That said, they’re always keen to tell anyone who’ll listen that they’re the inspiration for this character or that one. It’s funny.

TBYL: How you do set yourself apart from other action and adventure writers?

Chris: Phew! How do I answer that one? I guess, in a contemporary sense, what I’m trying to do with my Intrepid series is write stories that are (I hope) reminiscent of the stories I grew up on while giving them a new edge. Someone recently described my books ‘like an old friend with new stories’ and that really captured it for me. While I want to keep the books as real as possible, I don’t want to be writing training manuals. So, it’s important for me to also maintain the escapism.For example, there are plenty of books out there about the CIA, the FBI, Secret Service, Mossad etc etc but I want readers to be excited about something completely new… a truly international agency that serves the world community, not just one country. That’s why I cam up with Intrepid.

TBYL: I assume that’s why your take your reader to a new location almost every new chapter?

Chris Allen ClovellyChris: Yeah, I like to keep the reader on their toes! It’s important to not only keep the pages moving but, wherever possible, I like to catapult the reader through the chapters. Taking people around the world while they’re sitting on a bus or train immediately gives them that sense of escape. That’s what I enjoy so much about my favourite books. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve missed their train stop on the way to and from work. I love that!

TBYL: Personally, I really like the fact that although your stories are rich with detail, they’re not heavy with ‘specs’. Is this choice to avoid micro-detailed descriptions of weaponry/strategy/etc deliberate?

Chris: You’re spot on about the specs and weaponry. I believe in giving the reader just enough to enable them to make sense of those things so that they can continue to enjoy the story rather than leaving them qualified to actually operate the gear!

TBYL: At about the time of Hunter’s publication, you struck up a new friendship with Momentum Books. Can you tell us a little about this? How are you finding the digital publishing industry?

Chris: I’ve been really fortunate to have found a great publisher to work with on Defender and Hunter. Joel Naoum is the publisher who runs Momentum and it was clear to me right from the outset that he got where I was coming from – the whole ‘old-school meets new-school’ approach I’m taking with the books. So, it made complete sense for me to partner with Momentum under Joel’s stewardship. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Digital publishing is absolutely the future. That said, there are still huge sections of the reading community around the world who prefer to read from the printed/paper page and in my view, as an author you have to address that if you want your work to be read by as many people as possible. After all, if you’re a rock band and you know that half of your potential market still listens to music on vinyl, you’re not going to limit your latest album just to CD or digital. You’re going to get vinyl LPs pressed too! That’s certainly my approach anyway!

TBYL: So what about you? Do you have a preference when you’re reading?

Chris: I fall right in the middle – I love my kindle and it’s full of my old and new favourites, but I still like to pick up a paper book and settle in for a read! The stories are everything. I have all of Conan Doyle’s stories in paperback and eBook. Can’t get enough. In fact it’s much easier to read the full Sherlock Holmes compendium on my kindle than carting around a paperback the size and weight of an average house brick!

TBYL: Do you have plans for Intrepid 3 yet? What can you tell us?

Chris: Ah ha! THE question  Well, I am currently writing the third Alex Morgan adventure which, those of you who’ve read HUNTER will know, is called AVENGER. I don’t want to spoil it by letting on too much but I can assure you that I will be delving much more into Alex Morgan. A lot of readers have told me that they want to know more about him, so I’m really enjoying bringing Alex to life, exploring him as a man not just a secret agent.

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I must extend a huge thank-you to Chris, Sarah and Momentum Books for helping make Intrepid Month happen. I had a fantastic time, and I hope you’ve all been adequately tempted to pick up one of Chris’ books! You wont be disappointed…

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The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs

Today’s review of The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout (Allen and Unwin) has been written for us by TBYL Reviewer, Tam. I sent this book her way as I know she’s a bit of an animal lover, and thought she’d enjoy this tail (see what I did there?).

Indeed, it would seem that she was drawn into the intrigue of The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs…

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The story begins when, after fifteen years, Dr. Cyrus Mills returns to rural Vermont to inherit the Bedside Manor for Sick Animals, the failing veterinary practice of his recently deceased and long-estranged father. Cyrus, a veterinary pathologist far more comfortable with cold clinical facts than living, breathing animals (not to mention their quirky, demanding owners), intends to sell the practice and get out of town as fast as he can.

the patron saint of lost dogsThen his first patient – a down-on-her-luck golden retriever named Frieda Fuzzypaws – wags her way through the door, and suddenly life gets complicated. With the help of a black Labrador gifted in the art of swallowing underwear, a Persian cat determined to expose her owner’s lover as a gold digger, and the allure of a feisty, pretty waitress from the local diner, Cyrus gets caught up in a new community and its endearing residents, both human and animal. Sensing he may have misjudged the past, he begins to realise it’s not just his patients that need healing.

The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs is a winsome tale of new beginnings, forgiveness, and the joy of finding your way home.

As the story began I found it a little hard to tolerate Cyrus. He seemed weak, a character who would do anything to avoid having to feel and own the situation. But, as I read further into the story, I found that the author Nick Trout wrote the voice of our leading man very well. After we got to know Cyrus a little, I found it wonderful how way I could step into his shoes, feel his panic, confusion, hurt and doubt. I liked the internal dialog we were privy to, providing an insight into how Cyrus managed each dilemma and calmed himself down enough to manage each tricky situation.

The story achieves a really nice balance between the technical jargon which transports you to the setting of a veterinary clinic, and the human stories which draw you into the novel. This small town in Vermont is intriguing, despite the fact that at the beginning of the story it appears to be little more than a prison for Cyrus, a sentence that he has to serve after he inherits the clinic (full of hurtful memories and regret) from his father. During his stay, Cyrus discovers that every story does in fact have two sides and finds himself considering the possibility that he may have been mislead in his anger at his father.

Cyrus and, I as the reader, begin to love the residents of this small town and their furry friends. Even though in the past Cyrus has always found it easier to work in the clinical setting of pathology, rather than having to deal with live cases and their associated emotions, throughout The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs he finds his feet and discovers that perhaps the clinic he has inherited is not the burden he first believed.

The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs is a great book for pet lovers! Filled with furry creatures, mysteries to solve, love interests and just a touch of blackmail!!

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You can find out more about The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout on the Allen and Unwin website…

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Beautiful Take: One Good Friend Deserves Another

This week I’m trying to fit in lots of wonderful things… kids, work, reading and I’m getting ready for “Intrepid Month” to peak next week, as we discuss Chris Allen’s books in the TBYL Book Club and catch up with the author himself on Monday night (RSVP to this free, online event here).

giftPlus, I’m getting ready for a huge TBYL Book Clearance sale this weekend – which you can join in online all weekend on Facebook! Discounted books, some at cost, plus a few other goodies – first in best dressed!

I’ve also made sure I gave myself a little time out, and while taking a moment, I spent some time catching up on reviews from some of my favourite book bloggers. Today I was having a read of some reviews from the lovely Monique from Write Notes Reviews. As you know, I like to include different voices to TBYL, especially when they’re very talented ones and as such, I thought I’d feature one of Monique’s reviews on the blog today.

One Good Friend Deserves Another by Lisa Verge Higgins (Allen and Unwin) has been on my reading pile since February…

Dhara, Kelly, Marta, and Wendy have been the closest of friends since college. So close, that after a series of romantic disasters, they bond together to create Rules of Relationships to keep their hearts safe.

How many of these dating rules have you broken? 1. Choose Your Own Man 2. Make Sure Your Friends Approve 3. No One-Night Stands 4. Trust Your Instincts 5. Never Make the Same Mistake Twice 6. After a Break-Up, Wait Six Months Before Dating Again.

One good friend deserves another

Years later, the rules seem to have worked . . . until Marta discovers that her hot boyfriend is married, Kelly begins a risky love affair, Wendy inches closer to a pre-marital infidelity, and, most shocking of all, Indian-American Dhara suddenly agrees to an arranged marriage.

Hearts are about to be broken and the bonds of friendship are tested. Is it possible to find true love, when you’re breaking all the rules?

I didn’t have a chance to read it myself, but I think Monique has shared her thoughts on it beautifully…

During my adult life I’ve moved around a fair bit (four states) and books about close, long-standing friendships have at times filled the emotional gap created by leaving good friends behind, moving on and starting over. (My closest and oldest friend lives on the other side of the country and we only get to catch up in person for a couple of hours about once a year). After reading the book, I had to ask: do close-knit groups reallystay friends for decades or do they inevitably fade as circumstances change?…

You can read the full review here…

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You can find out more about Lisa’s book at the Allen and Unwin website and read more of Monique’s reviews here…

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Heart Like Mine

Thank goodness for the TBYL Reviewers – without them, I’d never be able to tell you about so many amazing books! I’m so lucky to have some wonderful people reading and reviewing for us, and today’s review is from the wonderful Carolyn Jones. Read on to find out more about Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany (Allen and Unwin) and about how you can enter to win a copy of your own…

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Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany (Allen and Unwin) shares the story of three woman, all very different from each other but connected nonetheless. There is Grace, 36 years old, a successful CEO and a woman comfortable in her decision to never have children of her own. Then there’s Kelli, a young single mother of two and the ex-wife of Grace’s fiancé. Finally, there is Kelli’s beloved daughter, Ava. Thirteen years old and completely devoted to her mother, Ava is desperate not to form a relationship with her father’s new partner. Very early in the story Kelli sadly and unexpectedly dies, meaning that Ava and her younger brother must live with their father and in turn, Grace. As you might expect, this sudden upheaval complicates the already strained relationship between Ava and her step-mother Grace.

Heart Like Mine alternates between narrating around the relationships shared by the three women and their overlapping stories, giving the reader a chance to see all sides of the difficult situation.

heart like mineI loved this book. I found it very easy to read but more importantly, I did not want to put it down. Amy Hatvany distinguishes the different narrators very clearly, with chapter headings and distinctive tones, whilst ensuring that the story flowed smoothly and never confusing the reader as to whose turn it was to tell their story. I don’t want to give too much away about what happens in the book as I enjoyed not knowing which way the story was going to take me. However, this is a book review, so I do need to provide something more to entice you to read this book…

There are some strong themes throughout the novel about womanhood, love and family. The age of thirteen is when a child becomes an adolescent and should be a time for greater independence, boyfriends and girlfriends, and discovering oneself. However, the three leading ladies in Heart Like Mine all encounter a life-changing event when they are thirteen. These individual events force these girls from early adolescence into adulthood much too young.

The main theme that Amy Hatvany explores is that of motherhood, from all perspectives; choosing to become a mother or having it thrust upon you unexpectedly…

She paused and gave me a dreamy smile. “But you really don’t know what love is until you’re a mother. You can’t understand it until you’ve had a baby yourself, but it’s the most intense feeling in the world.

I winced a little when she said this, as though she meant that a heart like mine was somehow defective because I hadn’t had children. I didn’t think of myself as less able to feel love. But her comments made me question myself and wonder if by missing out on motherhood, I was missing out on something that would make me a better person.

Grace, Kelli and Ava are incredibly strong women in their own right and through their narration we, the readers, feel their insecurities and share in their personal struggles to keep going through very tough times. I loved how Amy Hatvany developed these characters and didn’t dwell too much on clichés about stepmothers and daughters. I really believed their story. I highly recommend Heart Like Mine, whether you can identify with elements of it or reflect on your own growing up this book will stay with you for days. It’s a wonderful story, a drama of the challenges that comes with losing something too soon. If you take pleasure in a meaningful tale, or like me, love to weep in a book then I think you will enjoy Heart Like Mine.

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This month, a lucky reader will win a copy of Heart Like Mine courtesy of Allen & Unwin Books.

To enter, email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au, subject line ‘HEART’ and include your name and postal details. A winner will be chosen at random on 30.06.13 and notified by email.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany shop now at the TBYL Store…

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Intrepid Month and the Ten Elements of a Cracking Thriller

As you know, I’m incredibly excited about Intrepid Month being held at TBYL during June. It’s a great chance for us to enjoy some real action-packed reading, from the exciting Chris Allen and his Intrepid series. You can find out more here… but essentially, you’re invited to read either one or both of Chris’ novels Defender, or Hunter and discuss them with us on Facebook, in the last week of June.

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There will also be a chance to chat with Chris on Monday, 24 June 2013, again on Facebook. You’ll find details of the event here… it’s free, online, and promises to be great fun!

As part of Intrepid month, I thought it might be interesting to find out what the man himself thinks goes into the making of a great action/adventure novel, and so today, from the desk of Chris Allen I bring you the Ten Elements of a Cracking Thriller…

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I’ve got to tell you how particularly chuffed I am that it’s Intrepid Month right now at That Book You Like.

The act of writing stories can be less than glamorous – it’s more endless cups of tea and crumbs piling up on the keyboard in a darkened room (aka my writing mancave) than back-to-back launches and book signings with pen poised and a glass of red by my side. So, an entire month that celebrates the fruits of my humble artistic toils through a group Book Club read and Facebook chat is very welcome indeed!

Those days when I am holed up in the mancave, churning out chapters of the latest Alex Morgan espionage adventure as fast as my clumsy two-finger typing skills can manage, I’m not consciously thinking about what makes a cracking thriller. It’s creating my own mix of preferred reading and viewing tastes, past experiences, a reasonable dash of instinct, and an intense need to extract the story from my head and get it onto the page. Then, of course everything is honed during the editing process with my publisher.

Once the books are put out into the world, there does seem – on reflection – to be some shared elements I recognise between my work and those of the other thriller writers I have grown up enjoying.

So, here’s ten elements of a cracking thriller that are important to me when crafting or getting into a new action & adventure yarn. I wonder if you enjoy these or different tactics when you’re getting into a story?

1. A plot that keeps you guessing
The plot has to keep you going at a micro and macro level. I like to write and read stories that keep the narrative moving ahead quickly. Before you know it, you’re well and truly committed to the story because the author has you hooked from the outset.

chris allen new2. Action that compels you to keep reading
You’ve got to need to keep the pages turning. When I hear that someone has missed their train stop or their bus because too busy reading what Alex Morgan is up to, then my job is done. I love to read books that can achieve that for me, too! The idea is to keep the forward movement of the action as relentless as possible. The reader should be almost out of breath at the end of a major action sequence.

3. Characters that you care about
This is something that I am exploring as I immerse myself into the Alex Morgan series. I’d like to let my readers know more about Morgan and other principle characters. There are many writers who are great at this in the action/adventure arena – including my favourites – Fleming, Conan Doyle, Maclean, Higgins, Cussler. Of course, including a little beguiling love interest in each story doesn’t harm the reading experience either.

4. Enough realism to make you wonder, enough escapism to help you forget  
I like stories that make you think, ‘maybe this has really happened’.  For instance, when I created the fictional agency Intrepid, I wanted to give it a sense of real world gravitas but setting it within Interpol, while adding the connection to other major international agencies such as the UN Security Council. In truth the two are not connected but it’s not a stretch to believe that they are, and it also adds a sense of scale to the grand narrative I’m constructing across the series.

5. Enjoyable the second time around
The proof is in the pudding when it comes to great books. You know, the ones that are your favourites because you keep going back to re-read them time and again? I have my favourite stories that I return to and in years to come, I hope to provide that experience for my own readers. Ideally, the aim is to have people enjoy it enough to put a copy on their bookshelf – which is an achievement in an age of eReaders.

6. Classic but contemporary
In my view, the more that an action writer can make something that’s been made a thousand times over seem new and fresh, then the closer you are to achieving that balance between classic and contemporary. Provide the reader with a familiar setting but give them completely new characters and stories to enjoy.

7. Not so much about mass carnage
One thing I’m learning – and it’s a significant lesson – is that readers need more from their characters than their plots. Movies can easily deal with carnage and death on a mass scale, but finding innovative ways for both protagonist and antagonist to outwit each other on the page – in the classic good vs evil struggle – is a complex process. Readers need to be stimulated to be engaged, otherwise they’ll just skipping over the pages until they find a bit that draws them back in. And, if that takes too long, you’ll lose them.

8. An ass-kicking pace
You’ve probably guessed by now, I love action stories. I grew up on them, I’ve read hundreds of them and now I write them. To me, the ultimate adventure is fast paced and furious from beginning to end, but that doesn’t have to just be about the action. The narrative overall must be the literary equivalent pushing a large boulder over the crest of a steep hill. Nothing is going to stop it as it gathers speed and momentum every inch of the way until it comes crashing to a stop at the base of the hill, leaving nothing but anticipation of more to come.

Hunter9. The power to take you places
As a boy my favourite writers transported me from Rossmoyne, our sleepy little corner of Perth, and with the flick of a page landed me on foreign shores in the midst of incredible adventures. I’ve always loved that about books because our imagination drives our experience of the story. It’s up to the author to provide you with the prompts and triggers to enhance that experience.

10. Flawed characters
We can’t all be perfect, and especially not our heroes. There needs to be some level of mystery and uncertainty about our protagonist. We expect the villains to be flawed but writers can focus too much on the baddies while keeping the hero on a pedestal.  I’ve become conscious of this as a writer. Heroes must be at their core, human beings and their lives, attitudes and actions need depth and context. If I can be as objective as possible, sometimes Alex Morgan is so firmly established in my mind’s eye, I have a tendency to allow the baddies live more on the page.  That’s all about to change in Avenger…

What are your thoughts? What’s important when you’re reading a story? I’ll be taking your questions in a live Facebook Chat on Monday 24 June from 7.30pm AEST so would love to get your feedback then. Or leave a comment below and we might reference and discuss it on the night!

Interested to get reading? Here’s how you can also get involved in the Book Club read, Defender & Hunter, for Intrepid month.

About the author:
While penning his Alex Morgan espionage series, Chris saw the world from under a parachute; made a difference in East Timor; protected Sydney’s iconic sails post 9/11; and most recently, held one of the most historic offices in Australia as Sheriff of NSW. Since self-publishing and being signed by Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint Momentum for a two-book deal, Defender and Hunter have wowed readers worldwide, with Avenger due out soon and a film/TV franchise underway.

You can say g’day to Chris at www.facebook.com/intrepidallen or www.twitter.com/intrepidallen, and Chris blogs about all things thriller as well as indulging his love of cult TV shows and movies at www.intrepidallen.com/blog.

Buy Defender eBook on Amazon: http://buff.ly/16PjHQr 
Buy Hunter eBook on Amazon: http://buff.ly/185ZENL 

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Tam loved it! Saving Grace

I think TBYL Reviewer Tam J might have liked Saving Grace, by Fiona McCallum (Harlequin) just a little bit…

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Well, I have to start by saying I loved this book!! I loved the characters, the friendships and the intrigue, the imagery of the beautiful countryside and of course, the touch of romance.

saving-graceWhen Emily Oliphant married John Stratten, she thought it was the beginning of an exciting new adventure — standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the most eligible farmer in the district and pitching in to build a thriving agricultural business. Three years later, however, Emily sees her marriage for what it is — a loveless tie to a callous man.

When John’s cruelty reaches new heights, Emily is forced to move out, braving both her husband’s wrath and her mother’s glaring disapproval. With the encouragement of her new friend Barbara, Emily moves into an abandoned property and takes on the mammoth task of turning the unloved house into a home. In the process she discovers a new business venture, meets new friends and finds an inner strength she never knew she had.

Emily’s fragile confidence is soon tested, though, when the owners of the property make her a tempting offer. Will she risk everything and invest in the ramshackle house that has finally given her a sense of purpose? Or will Emily listen to the views of the community — and the voice of her mother — and go back to her life with John?

Emily is the leading lady in this beautiful book of great sadness and great courage. After discovering that she has made a terrible mistake marrying John Stratten she endures the abuse for three long years, until one day she can bear no more and raises the courage to finally stand on her own and leave him.

Emily adopts a dog of her own, Grace, who becomes her greatest companion. Grace was Emily’s attempt at comfort, in the hope of helping her cope with the cruelty of John and the long hours that she was forced to spend alone in the house while her husband worked on the land (which he forbid Emily from helping with) or while he drank at the pub and did God knows what else.

It’s through Grace that Emily comes to meet Barbara, a woman who has married a local but who was originally from out of town. Barbara is looking for friendship just as much as Emily, and as such, develop a fast friendship. It’s wonderful to watch the bond between them grow, and see just how must they help each other through life’s challenges.

This novel is very relatable and the pictures that Fiona McCallum paints with her words are just stunning. I felt as though I was living right alongside Emily in the old abandoned house which she moves into and does up. I was right alongside her as she picked apricots for her jam, I felt like I was alongside her as she spent dinners with her cold and disapproving mother, and I felt her grief as she mourned her Gran, a much-loved Grandmother who passes away at the beginning of the story.

This was a book I found difficult to put down and as it become obvious toward the end of the novel that this story was far from over, I became even more immersed. As the book draws to a close, Emily is only just starting to develop a new relationship with the handsome Jake from Melbourne, her jam is starting to sell at the markets and perhaps the most intriguing story left unfinished – what is left to find out about Gran and Prince Ali and what happened to the gift of “seven of Golconda’s finest”. Will Emily accept the offer to own the property she has moved into? Will she make her dreams of a B&B come true? Will she see Jake again? And will she solve Gran’s mystery?

I can barely wait for the conclusion of this story as I have been left feeling like Emily was a dear friend and want to see what her next moves will be! Hoping that the sequel to this story is not too long a wait!!

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So I guess if the next instalment comes my way, I’d better send it on to Tam, don’t you think?

If you’d like to find out more about Saving Grace, by Fiona McCallum you can do so here…

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Bravery: Forged with Flames

A couple of weeks ago I read Forged with Flames (Wild Dingo Press), the painful and inspiring memoirs of Ann Fogarty (co-written with Anne Crawford.)

Forged with FlamesAnn’s story is both traumatic and heroic…

As the Ash Wednesday bushfires raged around her in a small Victorian town in February 1983, a young mother stood between her two young daughters and the massive fireball heading straight for them…

Ann tells her dramatic story with candour and disarming humour beginning with her working-class childhood growing up in a village in Lancashire, England. Her fateful decision to marry the young Australian from Melbourne took her to the other side of the world for the adventure of a life time. Twelve years later, her peaceful family life was shattered.

This story takes us far beyond the drama of Ash Wednesday. Her reflections and insights are profoundly illuminating and inspirational. This is a story about living and loving, about hope and determination, about facing your worst demons and staring them down.

Ann’s story is well told and sensitively handled, sharing her account of suffering horrific burns in the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, facing countless months of recovery and rehabilitation, and many years learning to deal with the psychological damage such trauma causes. Ann’s battle with anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder continued over the years to follow and she shares many valuable insights with her readers, on how to acknowledge and work to overcome PTSD and anxiety.

I had allowed Ash Wednesday and all that came after it to rule my life and define my existence. I saw now that I had unknowingly refined suffering to a great art. It had become my identity. But what was at the core of me? Soon after that evening, I took up meditating, joining evening classes taken by a woman who held them in her home. I learned to breathe in a calm, controlled way, gradually learning to still my thoughts and listen to my heart, which led to a feeling of contentment. I didn’t need to fill the holes in my life with anything from outside. I started to find joy in  small things. The cheerful little faces of pansies I had planted brought on a wave of happiness. A breeze with a hint of warmth lifted my spirits as I closed my eyes to it. I had begun to learn how to be alone and happy.

Living in Melbourne, Ann’s story resonated strongly with me. The suburbs she speaks of are familiar, some very close to home. Here battle with breast cancer was also an experience I could easily identify with, it made me feel for her even more than I already did.

Ann’s story really is one of strength and hope. As you would imagine, she has moments of despair, but some how she manages always to rise above them and move on to the next important stage of her life. It’s truly inspirational.

I was incredibly lucky to be able to ask Ann a few questions about her story and about how she’s doing now…


Firstly, thank-you so much for sharing your story. Could you please tell me, what do you hope people will gain from reading ‘Forged with Flames’?

I have always hoped that people reading Forged with Flames might find encouragement there for their own struggles. I know I have drawn strength from other people’s stories myself, and felt like I could keep going, and I would love it if my book would do the same for someone else.

I hope too, that as bushfires are such a part of Australian life, others might not make the same mistake I did on the night of the fires and realise that getting out early is such a sensible and life saving thing to do.


For me, hearing of your struggle with anxiety and PTSD was most inspiring. What would you say to others who deal with anxiety themselves?
I would say, you are definitely not alone, there are so many of us dealing with the same issues. I hid the depth of my own anxiety for so long, believing it to be a weakness, so I would encourage others not to do that, as it only causes you even more pain and anguish. Seek help and support from people who are able to really hear you and offer you counsel.

Also, I’ve found that life can still be amazing even with anxiety, and if you don’t let fear make the choices in your life, you can do things you never imagined you could ( I am still a novice at this myself because it’s terrifying to do, but so worthwhile ). I know people with anxiety will understand what I mean when I say that sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning can be a great act of courage in itself, so I think we all have to be so proud of that.


It sounds as though you’ve a wonderful family around you. Do you have any advice for loved ones helping a family member or friend through tough times and illness.
Ann Fogarty
You certainly do not recover from tough times alone and friends and family play a huge part in getting you through. For me, just having people beside me to share the journey and ease the sense of loneliness I felt in my struggles, meant everything. I valued people’s loving presence far more than their advice, which I was not ready to hear or take for a long time.

When someone is by your side in whatever way it is possible for them to be, a sense of trust develops and you are then able to open up and share how it really is for you. But this can’t be forced and comes as a result of willingness on their part to just accept the hurting person exactly as they are. That being said, the friend who knows just when to give you a friendly push along is an invaluable ally.


We left you at the end of the book doing well, and continuing to work through your challenges. How are you doing now?
That’s exactly how I am still – doing well, but needing every day to work on my challenges. Most days now, I can manage my anxieties, but there are still times when I think, will this never end, and wonder how I will actually be able to keep going. I am still hopefully looking for a break through anxiety wise, but until then I’ll keep hanging in there!!


What’s next for you? Any more plans to write…?
Life since the book’s publication has been very exciting and just when I think the excitement is finishing something else pops up. I made a promise to myself  before the book came out that I would not say no to anything out of fear, and so far I haven’t. This has meant I’ve done things I never imagined I could and been to places I never thought I could go. I am determined to keep following this plan and see where it leads me. As for another book – well, I certainly don’t want a sequel to this one, but perhaps something with a sickeningly happy ending ?!!

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If you’d like to find out more about Forged with Flames, you can do so here…

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Get Scrapping: Enter to Win

I have two scrapbook-crazy ladies in my life, my Mum and my sister – they love it! The photos, the embellishments, the buttons and twine. The other day when I was on a shopping trip with them, they started chatting away about ‘gesso’ and ‘mod podge’ and I was lost. I had to ask them exactly what language they were speaking. Their answer? Scrap, of course.

the avalon ladies scrapbooking societyBecause Tam is such an avid scrapbooker, I thought it only sensible to have her review the book I’ve just received from Allen and Unwin, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee.

At Madeline’s Tea Salon, the cozy hub of the Avalon community, six women find their memories are shaping their future.

Young Connie Colls, fiercely independent and full of promise longs for a past she never had. Isabel Kidd is anxious to move forward but is still paralysed by the consequences of her late husband’s love affair. After spending many years living a life on her own terms, Yvonne Tate finds that she can’t outwit her past. For Ava Catalina, reaching out to hold on to precious memories means rekindling old hurts while Frances Latham sees her dream for a daughter dashed when tragedy strikes. And then there’s irascible Bettie Shelton, founder and president of the Avalon Scrapbooking Society, who helps others create lasting memories of their past but finds the pages of her own albums empty. As the women gather to scrapbook the details of their lives, they discover that things are not always as they seem.

By turns humorous, wise, and deeply moving, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society is a luminous reminder that the things we hold most dear will last a lifetime.

She’s reading it as we speak, but guess what else?! I’ve got three copies of the book to give-away!

To enter… all you need to do is to email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au with the subject line SCRAPBOOK and tell us why you’d like to win a copy of Darien’s book. Don’t forget to include your name and postal address in your email and let me know if you’d mind me sharing your response on Facebook.

Competition will close midnight Tuesday, 4 June 2013

I’ll draw three winners at random and announce them when I post Tam’s review on Wednesday, 5 June 2013.

If you’d like to find out more about The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society you can visit 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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Best laid plans: Grace Grows

Today’s review comes from the lovely Monique from Write Notes Reviews. Monique recently reviewed Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners (Allen and Unwin) and here’s what she thought of it. I particularly like the recommended accompaniment of chocolate when reading this novel…

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Grace GrowsAs we all know, best-laid plans sometimes fall by the wayside when life gets in the way. Grace Grows is a fun and engaging novel based on the premise that, to paraphrase John Lennon, “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans”. While the concept is nothing new, the book delivers an old idea with a fresh approach that makes it highly readable…

You can read the full review here…

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If you’d like to find out more about Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners, you can visit the Allen and Unwin website here.

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