allen and unwin

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…


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.


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

To enter, email, 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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Good company: The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society

As I said last week, because Tam is such an avid scrapbooker, I thought it only sensible to have her review The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee (Allen and Unwin) I figured she’d understand the language, the comradery of this book and of course, she did. By all accounts, Tam really enjoyed this novel and interestingly, it sounds like scrapbooking was simply the catalyst for gathering. It was the woman, and their strengths and struggles that keep bringing them back into each others company.

Here’s what Tam thought of this novel…


The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee is an extremely busy book, with loads of characters introduced all at once, all of whom are living their separate lives with their separate dramas and troubles. It’s this large cast of characters that makes this such a clever book, in how it brings all these individuals together, to get to know each other in the small town of Avalon.

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

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

As the women gather to scrapbook the details of their lives, they discover that things are not always as they seem.

This story centres around Bettie, Isabel, Frances, Yvonne, Ava, Connie and Madeline – all very different people who would have little reason to get along in any other context, but come together to scrapbook.  In fact as this novel begins many of the women don’t actually like each other very much. As this story develops we are introduced to their private and mostly complicated histories and women begin to find strength within each other and form beautiful friendships.

Throughout the novel, Bettie Shelton is the one constant. She is the founder and President of the scrapbooking society and it comes to light that she is also enduring her own private tragedy. Bettie loses all her scrapbooks and it is through this sad event that it comes to light just how integral a part of the community Bettie has become, as they rally together to rebuild her memories.

As an avid scrapbooker myself I found comfort and inspiration in this story. Much of the message behind this story is about embracing your past, treasuring your memories and recording these memories in a way for your loved ones to be able to hold on to for many years to come. They may even be able to learn more about your past and indeed their own past than they would have otherwise. I have always found scrapbooking therapeutic, and there is a great emphasis on this in the book. The craft is a great way to reflect, to realise the positives, heal the negatives and to cope through the hard times. It’s not just about photos (as so often thought) but also about documentation, a collection of brochures, menus, journaling, pictures painted with words. Such a beautiful legacy to leave for your family. This theme of legacy runs throughout  The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society sharing with us a story of trouble, healing and friendship.


Thanks to Allen and Unwin, I’ve had three copies of The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society to give away! Entries closed yesterday at midnight and the three winners (chosen at random) are S. Odongo, A. Lee and F. Garrivan.  Congratulations, and keep an eye on your emails for message from me this evening.

To find out more about Darien Gee’s novel, you can do so here…

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Out Now! TBYL News: All Things Bookish June 2013

An adventure packed edition of TBYL News: All Things Bookish… this month – new events coming up, competitions, new books in store!

chris allen 2012TBYL News is a great way to catch up on recent reviews, upcoming news and words from my lovely special guests.

This month you can catch up on what happened at last month’s “The Next Step”, you’ll find a chance to win a great book from Allen and Unwin, and you can read all about our next TBYL Event, an online chat with the wonderful Chris Allen.

Click here to read TBYL News: All Things Bookish… June 2013

If you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, you can click here. This’ll mean that you get our monthly news by email, on the first Monday of the month. Perfect!

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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 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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Lessons Learnt: A Grandmother’s Wisdom

Is there anything better than a cold night, a quiet house and a comfy doona? How about if we added a sweet, single-sitting book? If you ask me, with that combo, you’ve got a pretty perfect evening.

a grandmother's wisdomLast week I decided to turn in early and have a read of Catriona Rowntree’s A Grandmother’s Wisdom: Lessons learnt at my Nan’s knee (Allen and Unwin). An inviting little hard-cover book sharing ‘the beautiful relationship which exists between a grandparent and their grandchild.’

Catriona Rowntree loves her Nan. She grew up in the same household and it was to this wise, loving woman that the young Catriona took all her worries and joys. Always there was a sympathetic ear and advice worth following. And as Catriona grew up, left home, started her media career, found and lost boyfriends, met her future husband, married and fell pregnant – her Nan’s words of encouragement, warmth and love helped to guide Catriona’s behaviour and choices, and they continue to do so.

In A Grandmother’s Wisdom, Catriona shares her Nan’s homespun wisdom, based on the experiences of a lifetime. Heartfelt and funny with a straight-talking edge, this is a book to treasure.

Catriona Rowntree has been a regular on our TVs for years, showing us around gorgeous corners of the globe with her big smile and enthusiastic commentary. More recently, she surprised many by embarking on a more rural life with her farmer husband James – the magazines had a field day!

She’s been such a feature of the Australian television landscape that it was quite interesting to find out a little bit more about what made her tick. As a character, Catriona has always struck me as a little old-fashioned, a little old-school. After reading A Grandmother’s Wisdom I think I better understand why. She was incredibly close to her Nan and took her Grandmother’s advice to heart, living by pearls such as…

‘Be careful who you listen to – surround yourself with positive people and don’t listen to doomsayers.’

‘Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to see printed on the front page of the newspaper.’

‘Try to avoid being photographed with alcohol in your hand.’

I can understand why she would pay such heed to these words, as her Grandmother Riria was clearly a clever, strong and caring woman, worthy of great respect. This book was a really wonderful reminder of the the importance of maintaining the connections between woman, young and old. There is a great deal to share and learn.

The book itself would make a lovely gift, it’s a quick read, and a really interesting recollection of Catriona’s own career. It’s a sweet way to spark your own memories of mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers… special woman who play an important role in guiding us through life.

If you’d like to find out more about Catriona Rowntree’s A Grandmother’s Wisdom: Lessons learnt at my Nan’s knee you can here…

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Tough and Inspiring: My Wild Ride

Today’s review is from TBYL Reviewer Kate Barber. Kate recently read the inspirational story of horse-rider Fiona Johnson in her memiors My Wild Ride from Allen and Unwin. Here’s her thoughts on this tough but inspiring read…


My  Wild RideMy Wild Ride is the true story of Fiona Johnson who, at 25 years of age seems to have it all. She is newly married to the man of her dreams, has just bought a 5 acre property and is about to embark on building her first home when, in the prime of her life, she is diagnosed with Acute Myloid Leukaemia.

And so begins the biggest battle of her life. She begins a rigorous round of chemotherapy complicated by numerous setbacks and emotional uncertainty. She completes her chemotherapy with the amazing support of her adoring husband Matt, her family and her newly found faith in God.

Fiona goes into remission but her fight is not over. She recommences chemotherapy but is then faced with the choice of have a transplant or not – as she is given on 50% chance of surviving the next 5 years either way. On top of all this she desperately wants to have a child and her chances are slim after such intensive chemotherapy.

Fiona’s love of horses and determination then sees her embracing the rodeo circuit in the quest to forfill a life long dream of competing on the Australian Rodeo Circuit and, against all odds, to have a child.

Fiona’s story is told with honestly and it really is quite inspiring, the way in which she has been able to overcome everything that has been thrown her way with resilience and determination. Her love of horses and the rodeo circuit is spoken about with a lot of enthusiasm and is quite informative – great if you don’t know anything about this sport. As will most autobiographies of this nature it is very sad at times, however her positivity and determination definitely shines through.

Fiona is now the mother of 2 children and is cancer-free.


To find out more about Fiona Johnson’s My Wild Ride visit the Allen and Unwin website here.

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Five Things

It’s a new week, and there’s so much going on in TBYL-land that today’s post brings you five small things of note…


The first thing is that, despite being a little busy doing the day-job on Monday and Tuesday, the transit time gives me a fabulous chance to get some reading done. I’m pleased, as it’ll give me a chance to get into my Mother’s Day reading A Grandmother’s Wisdom by Catriona Rowntree (Allen and Unwin). I’ve only read a chapter so far, but so far it’s very sweet

Thing two is about a bookish chat we’re about to start. The April TBYL Book Club starts today, and I’m looking forward to hear what you think about The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier (Allen and Unwin). You can read a review here and join the conversation here.

Thing number three is a wonderful development for the next TBYL Event The Next Step. As well as being a fantastic chance to chat with publishers and authors, attending this event will also give you the chance to win an USB key from Escape Publishing, loaded with titles from Charmaine Ross and Rhian Cahill. There are three up for grabs, and winners will drawn on the night. The event will be held 22 May 2013 (7pm) at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne. Book your tickets now!

newspaper_bw3The forth thing is that next Monday, the May edition of TBYL News: All Things Bookish… will be published. It’ll have interviews, favourite reviews, special offers and a fantastic book give-away. If you’ve not subsribed to receive it by email, you can SUBSCRIBE here!

Finally, thing five is all about staying in touch. Our Facebook community is growing bigger by the week, and I wanted to invite you to Like Us  if you haven’t already. It’s the best way to keep up to date with what’s going on with TBYL. We’re on Twitter and Pinterest also, if that’s more your thing. Can’t wait to connect!

So that’s a little of what’s going on with TBYL at the moment. There’s also lots of author-interviews in the pipelines, as well as a new mobile friendly TBYL Store in the works, but more about that later…

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April TBYL Book Club, starting Monday

On Monday, we’ll start chatting about this month’s TBYL Book Club book, The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier (Allen and Unwin).

Unfinished JournalsI’d say that there are two quite distinct themes in Bernier’s novel. The first is that of internal conflict and second, the notion of who you are versus who you seem to be. Both of these themes make for an incredibly moving story, one that really gets to the heart of what it is to be a woman living a suburban, matrimonial and maternal life…

You can read the full review here

It’s a fairly quick read, so if you’ve got a little time over the weekend, it’s not too late to join in the discussion. You can join the conversation on the TBYL Book Club on Monday, 29 April 2013.

For the May book club, I’d like to propose a theme, rather than a book… Stay tune for more information at the beginning of next month.

Hope that you have a wonderful, bookish weekend!

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Love Stories? The Last Girlfriend on Earth

Last week was incredible – I spent hours playing in parks, chatting with Oscar and hanging out with my Mum. I got out of house, away from the computer and enjoyed what was probably the last bit of decent Melbourne weather that we’ll get for a while. Not much writing got done. It’s the first proper week off I’ve had for a long while, and it has done me the world of good.

But now the kids are back to school, and it’s time to dust off the desk chair and plant my bum in it, eyes glued firmly to the computer screen. I’ve got a dozen reviews to write and a brand new TBYL Event to arrange.

I wasn’t quite sure where to start, but after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I decided to chat about a book that on the face of it, seemed pretty light hearted.

The last girlfriend on earthDuring the break I read an intriguing collection of short stories, The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories (Allen and Unwin), a new book from the author of What in God’s Name, Simon Rich…

It doesn’t matter if you’re a robot, a caveman, or an alien from outer space: sooner or later, some girl’s going to break your heart…

“On the third day, God’s girlfriend came over and said that He’d been acting distant lately. ‘I’m sorry,’ God said. ‘Things have been crazy this week at work.’ He smiled at her, but she did not smile back. And God saw that it was not good.”

Simon’s short stories are fantastic, bite-sized tales full of crazy and heart. They’re funny, and at times, quite dark – they’ll leave you feeling slightly love-lorn whilst you giggle quietly.

They’re modern stories, mostly from a male point of view and taken from every possible perspective – alien, heavenly, mythical and suburban.

There’s “Victory”, featuring Josh as he receives presidential accolades for a successful evening of romantic endeavour (he scored!) and then there’s poor Brent, who falls for the oldest trick in the book in “Sirens of Gowanus”…

He heaved his amp over his shoulder and headed towards the singer. She had moved on to another tune by now – a b-side by Big Star. The streetlamps grew sparser as he neared the Gowanus Canal, but he was able to spot her in the moonlight. She was under the Carroll Street bridge, sitting on a round, smooth rock. Her silky eyelashes fluttered as she sang. And whenever she hit a high note, she playfully splashed the water with her feet. She was naked from the waist up, two large breasts protruding from her slender, bird-like frame.

There’s also a quiet cynicism, which you’ll find in stories like “Children of the Dirt” – the mythical tale of the Children of the Moon, Sun and Earth, all of whom are insufferable to the lesser known, and lesser loved, Children of the Dirt.

And of course there’s self-sacrifice, real love, which will make you sigh a little in between your laughter.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection of stories. I’ll admit that I found a couple of them a little bit cliched, but mostly they were funny, sweet and cheeky. If you’re after a quick, light read The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories might do the job nicely.

If you’d like to find out more about Simon Rich’s book, you can visit the Allen and Unwin website here…

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One Girl: Navel Gazing

I don’t know about you guys, but I think about my body a lot. I think about its size, its shape, its tweaks and twists and its general health.

If I’m honest, I probably think about it a bit too much, but the mind will do what the mind will do and after being sick a few times I’ve become a little hyper-aware.

navel gazingFor this reason, I was drawn to Anne H. Putnam’s Navel Gazing (Allen and Unwin), despite that fact that I’m not normally one for memoirs. Typically, they’re not my favourite type of writing, but I was interested in Anne’s story…

Almost every woman worries about her weight. For Anne H. Putnam, it became unavoidable – by the age of seventeen she weighed over twenty stone and had tried everything, from dieting to fat camp to wearing big t-shirts. When she decided to have weight-loss surgery, she thought her life would change. But now, nine years later and ten sizes smaller, she has discovered that changing your body doesn’t automatically change how you feel about it.

I’ve never considered weight-loss surgery (I’ve had my fill of major surgery) but I have experienced substantial weight-loss (I once lost 25 kg in 12 months) and the internal and external reactions that it brings with it. I was pretty sure I knew what Anne was talking about.

There are two things that set Anne’s story apart from other weight-loss stories. Firstly, there’s her young age – the idea of such a young person undergoing such life-changing surgical intervention is at once frightening and fascinating…

“Dad chattered excitedly about how we’d never be able to eat like this again after the surgery. I nodded, although it was hard to imagine being unable to eat more than a fist-sized portion of anything before I felt full, and actually getting sick from fat and sugar. But I didn’t care what we could and couldn’t put in into our bodies, as long as it didn’t require constant vigilance and willpower and the dark, lurking knowledge of failure to come. I was happy to live the rest of my life unable to eat fried things without getting sick; I just wanted to be thin.”

The second thing that made this book compelling was her focus on the psychological side of weight-gain, weight-loss, body image and self esteem. She struggles, sometimes quietly, other times loudly with the way in which her personal, entrenched perceptions makes her feel about herself and others.

These elements make Navel Gazing realistic and multi-dimentional. I really appreciated this reflection on weight management, and its recognition of this as an issue that goes beyond the simple ‘eat less, do more’ approach.

Anne’s writing is tidy and easily read. Only once or twice did I wonder at the choice to include a particular story or recollection. There were occasions where I did get a little impatient with Anne’s obsessions, but then I reminded myself that that was kind of the whole point of the book, and I felt for her.

I most certainly found myself wishing Anne all the best for her future.

This is an important book, with the potential to help people better understand the complexities of weight management, perhaps most particularly for those working in the medical and fitness industry… I think it’d give them a really interesting, gritty and realistic insight into the mind of a girl struggling within and against her body. This, I would think, could only be helpful.

You can find out more about Anne H. Putnam’s Navel Gazing here…

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