carolyn jones

Mysteries in The City of Jasmine

It sounds very much like Carolyn was completely transported by this exciting, exotic adventure. Here’s what she thought of The City of Jasmine by Deanne Raybourn (Harlequin)…

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It’s the 1920s, Europe still hurts from the Great War, but despite this people are embracing life during this golden era. Interestingly, Deanne Raybourne’s The City of Jasmine is not just another story set during this fascinating era, one in which many authors indulge us with elaborate costumes, glitzy parties and sophistication normally associated with this glorious time. Rather, Raybourn’s story is quite different. It is set in Damascus, a city at the crossroads of history. A place often in the today’s news as a city of unrest and violence; Raybourn’s Damascus is rich, exotic and ancient.

city of jasmineThe heroine of the story is Mrs Evangeline Starke (Evie), a young widow who has risen to fame by becoming an aviatrix flying her way across the seven seas of the ancient world. Accompanied by her eccentric Aunt Dove, they collect countless stories and admirers throughout their journey. Their adventures change course somewhat when Evie receives an anonymous letter, an envelope with nothing in it but a recently taken photograph of her late husband. Evie believes her husband to have perished with the sinking of a passenger ship five years earlier, but this recent photograph would seem to suggest otherwise. Evie, never one to shy away from adventure, steers her Aunt and her journey towards the country she believes this photograph was taken – Damascus.

It is once Evie arrives in the City of Jasmine that the story really came alive for me. Raybourn describes the alleyways and the markets of Damascus in such vibrant detail that I, as a reader, was taken back in time to this ancient city, with all it’s captivating scenery, it’s intriguing characters and enticing aromas.

Once in Damascus Evie meets a group of archaeologists who are overseeing a dig taking place in the Badiyat ash-Sham, the great Syrian Desert. Knowing her late husband’s obsession with this part of the world and his fascination with priceless historical artefacts, Evie insists on accompanying them back to the dig in order to try to uncover the mystery of the photograph. Upon arriving at the dig, Evie’s former world of glamour, sponsorships and parties abruptly changes to one of danger, thievery and murder.

Love and passion are also central to this story with Evie dealing with the deception from her past.

 

“’If you wish it,’ he replied as coolly as if she’d asked him to pass the nuts,’” Gabriel quoted softly. ’For would keep no girl in the Neverland against her will.’” He looked directly at me then, his eyes piercing in the soft lantern light of the tent.

I swallowed hard. “I don’t think I remember the rest.”

Gabriel’s eyes held mine. “Yes, you do. Peter takes Wendy home. And he tells her to leave a window open for him. Because he always comes back in the end.”

 

This book is great fun to read, with adventure at every turn of a page. I loved each of the characters, including the baddies! I would love to see this book turned into a film; I imagine it to be like Indiana Jones with a female as the lead. This wild ride is full of mystery and aerodynamic stunts, all occurring during a time of political unrest in Syria. At the same time, Raybourn manages to capture the stillness of the Syrian Desert at night – oh how I wanted to emerge from a tent in the middle of the night and gaze up at the millions of stars, even if it was after a day of turmoil and angst!

I recommend that you look out for this book and lose yourself in a story of intrigue, danger and love. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will keep my eye out for future Deanna Raybourn novels.

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 You can find out more about Deanne Raybourne’s The City of Jasmine here.

Living Proof: It Will Get Better

I don’t know about you, but TBYL Reviewer Carolyn has certainly sparked my interest with this review…

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Stella Gibney’s memoir, It Will Get Better (Allen and Unwin) is the story of a woman who has suffered more trauma and upheaval in her life than most, certainly more than many of characters I’ve read about. Through her lifelong habit of journaling, Stella Gibney has been able to come through the toughest of times and arrive at new beginnings with a positivity that I admired to the end.

It will get betterThe book starts when six year old Stella experiences the worst kind of trauma imaginable. A very naïve little girl suddenly has her innocence ripped away from her and this sets her on a course where she feels vulnerable and forever in a position of never being able to say no, especially to men. As a young girl, she witnesses terrible physical and emotional abuse from her alcoholic father towards her mother, as well as a series of strange encounters with her grandfather.

Gibney takes us through her life, detailing tumultuous teen years, marriage and motherhood, all occurring against the backdrop of frequent moves around New Zealand and Australia. She endures a lot yet remains upbeat about her life, all the way through the book.

“Although journaling didn’t change what was going on around me, it did highlight areas of my life that I needed to change, and if I was being completely honest with myself, then I would often see the ugly side of my behaviour that I needed to address.”

I was drawn to this book knowing that Gibney kept journals and used these to form the novel. I was a little surprised to see that she hasn’t used as many direct excerpts from her diaries as I thought she might. I wasn’t disappointed; when she does use actual diary entries they are honest and well written, but I did find myself wishing for more diary entries rather than the condensed version that this book is. I myself have been an avid journal-keeper over the years and just recently read the journals from my last two years of high school. This story really made me wonder how my story would come across if I were to condense all the emotions and events that happened to me over twenty years, from my journals? Personally I think this would be a very hard task, and to do so must take great skill. Because I found It Will Get Better a very easy read, I believe that Gibney has done this well.

Stella Gibney is the older sister to the well known actress Rebecca Gibney of “Packed to the Rafters” fame. Stella never talks too much about her sister’s success and only refers to her as a wonderful friend and support. She has two other sisters and a mother, all of whom are very supportive and even though this family experienced tough conditions when they were young, they remain a strong unit.

Most of the men in her life have been detrimental to her self-esteem yet she has given birth to three boys. Being a mother empowers her to be their friend and a role model and she shares with us in this book, the importance of teaching her boys to express themselves through writing rather than using violence and fear tactics. She includes letters and a song written by her sons and they express their love and respect for their Mum and her ability to overcome so much. It’s lovely to read.

It Will Get Better is a raw and honest account of a working class girl growing up in the 1960s and 70s in New Zealand. I admire the strength of Stella Gibney to stay so positive after so many confronting events, and her confidence to share these through her first novel. This book is quick to get into and does not take long to read. If you enjoy a memoir then I suggest you give this a go, it starts off with a bang, grabs you and then shows you how life can get better.

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You can find out more about Stella Gibney’s memoir, It Will Get Better here…

Longing: The Next Time You See Me

Reviewer Carolyn really seems to have been taken in by the characters of Holly Goddard Jones’ The Next Time You See Me (Allen and Unwin) and reading her review, I can see why…

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Loneliness and a longing to escape are the emotions which are evoked when I think about Holly Goddard Jones’ captivating first novel The Next Time You See Me.  Set in small town America, this story centres on a mystery that links six very lonely individuals. Its intricacies, revealed as I read, kept me wondering throughout this haunting novel.

the next time you see meSusanna Mitchell is a young mother and the local middle school English teacher.  She leads a very mundane life and feels stuck in place, in the town she grew up in, spending all of her time pleasing others.  In contrast, her sister Ronnie appears to be the exact opposite, leading a carefree life, albeit much to the distaste of the town and in turn making her the topic of frequent gossip.  When Ronnie suddenly disappears, Susanna suddenly realises her state and how stuck she is in her life and she becomes focussed on finding her sister. Everyone in their small town thinks poorly of Ronnie and it seems that only Susanna cares about where she has gone.

Susanna is only in her twenties and has a big challenge ahead of her if she is to solve the mystery.

One of Susanna’s students is Emily Houchens, a thirteen year old who has a wild imagination and is misunderstood by her family and bullied by her peers.  Early in the novel Emily apparently finds the body of a young woman lying in the woods and she becomes excited by this discovery. Emily is thrilled about having a real life secret which appears similar to the literary characters in her English class stories.

The story takes place in October when the beginnings of Winter are setting in, in a town, sodden with secrets and drudgery. That is until a shocking event occurs, one that rarely comes by a place as insignificant as this one.  The main characters are isolated individuals and are suddenly connected to each other and forced to make decisions. Some make good choices and change their lives, others don’t.  The surroundings and the personal struggles endured by each character sets a solemn tone throughout the story but it was what I liked best about it.

The Next Time You See Me kept me guessing until the very end.  I wonder if others who read this, agree or will it be obvious? I truly liked the main characters and sympathised with them through their stories and their solitude.  It is easy to be distracted when it came to speculating the truth of what happened on that fateful night and thinking now, I prefer my own assumptions.

This book may sound quite depressing but the sad mystery with themes of heartache and loss drew me in and kept me interested.  There are times of happiness for some of the characters and it gave me hope that the decent people of this book can leave their lonely existences behind and start afresh with love and companionship.  The strength behind this book is its characters and how carefully Goddard Jones constructed them.  I was left, at the end, thinking about this story for days and still now, the characters are real to me.

“In her Camaro, on the road, with the window down and freezing air blowing in and her left hand making little waves as she raced along, she could be herself, finally.  She would rather be leaving than coming, driving than arriving; she lived better in the in-between than she ever had sitting still.  Which is why she didn’t belong in any photograph. She had looked through the camera’s lens and seen not her family but her own absence, and it had seemed to her for a moment that she was a ghost, that she didn’t really exist and wouldn’t be missed.”

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To find out more about Holly Goddard Jones’ The Next Time You See Me visit the Allen & Unwin website here…

 

 

Waiting for Wednesday

Although I’m not sure if TBYL Reviewer Carolyn was completely convinced when I gave her Nicci French’s crime novel Waiting for Wednesday (Penguin) to read and review, I get the feeling from this review that she’s starting to come around…

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Today’s review is of Waiting for Wednesday by crime writer Nicci French. It’s a very well written book and takes the reader on many twists and turns before the crime is solved.  This novel is one that I suspect lovers of crime fiction will enjoy.

waiting for wednesdayAlthough it took me a little bit of effort to get into this book, upon finishing it I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and that it has contributed to my growing interest of this genre.  I discovered early on that this novel belonged to a series. The storyline was new but characters had already been introduced in previous books in the series. As you might expect, this meant it took me a little to grab hold of the context, but once I got to know the characters, it was no obstacle to my enjoyment of the novel.

Ruth Lennox, beloved mother of three, is found by her daughter in a pool of her own blood. Who would want to murder an ordinary housewife? And why? 

Psychotherapist Frieda Klein finds she has an unusually personal connection with DCI Karlsson’s latest case. She is no longer working with him in an official capacity, but when her niece befriends Ruth Lennox’s son, Ted, she finds herself in the awkward position of confidante to both Karlsson and Ted.

When it emerges that Ruth was leading a secret life, her family closes ranks and Karlsson finds he needs Frieda’s help more than ever before.

But Frieda is distracted. Having survived an attack on her life, she is struggling to stay in control and when a patient’s chance remark rings an alarm bell, she finds herself chasing down a path that seems to lead to a serial killer who has long escaped detection. Or is it merely a symptom of her own increasingly fragile mind?

Because, as Frieda knows, every step closer to a killer is one more step into a darkness from which there may be no return…

Waiting for Wednesday is the third instalment of the Frieda Klein series.  The novel opens with a horrific murder of an ordinary middle-class wife and mother of three, which, on its own captivated me and had me re-reading passages looking for clues.  I was to some degree left wanting, as not many clues are given at the beginning of the story; instead the writer takes her time recapping incidents that occurred in the previous two novels, reintroducing characters and their relationships.  As a first time reader to this series, I found it hard to get into the story because of this ‘revisiting’ and kept putting the book down to find something else to do.  However, as Mandi was waiting for me to write this review, I knew I had to persevere and devote my time to psychotherapist Frieda Klein no matter what terrors she had experienced in the other books. I’m glad that I did.

Waiting for Wednesday is written by two people, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Together they write under the pseudonym of Nicci French.  I had no idea until after I finished the book that this author was in fact a married couple.  The writing is seamless and they are able to get into the head of the main character very well. The further into the novel I got and the more I got to know Frieda, the more I wanted to stop the book and start the Frieda Klein series from the first book, Blue Monday.  The second in the series Tuesday’s Gone suggests that there will be seven in this series and judging from how Waiting for Wednesday was written, I think it will be great.

If we take a look at this book on its own and not as one in a series, the crime that occurs takes up only a small part of the story and is a fairly straightforward case.  Waiting for Wednesday spends a lot of its time developing characters that have featured earlier in the series and I’m assuming will be present in future books.  This book is very much the hump day in the series.  It appears that a climax will happen when Frieda Klein gets to the weekend.  Nicci French touches on something dark and frightening, waiting in the shadows, which had me wanting to know more.

You can read Waiting for Wednesday as a stand alone book however I think it would be more enjoyable to read the other two books in the series first. I know that reading this latest instalment has made me want to go back and read the first two, and I’d certainly do just that before reading the next in the series.

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If you’d to find out more about Nicci French’s Waiting for Wednesday you can visit the Penguin website here…

 

 

Foundations: Warrior Princess

Today, Carolyn finds out more about what it takes to be a real-life warrior princess…

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Do you like autobiographies? Are you inspired by personal memoirs? If you answered Yes to either of these questions then I think Warrior Princess by Mindy Budgor (Allen and Unwin) should be the next book on top of your reading pile!

warrior princess

Warrior Princess tells Mindy’s story, in particular, her quest to become one of the first female Maasai warriors. One of forty-two Kenyan tribes that have upheld ancient cultural ways to this day, Maasai tribesmen are world renowned warriors, and Mindy makes it her mission to learn more about them.

Mindy is a young Californian entrepreneur looking for a change from the Western corporate world, when she comes across an opportunity to volunteer in Kenya. During her visit she becomes mesmerised by the Maasai tribal leaders and their ways of life. This meeting has her looking at her own life and material needs and during her last night in Kenya she asks the leader about the roles of females in their culture. She is told that women are not strong enough or brave enough to be allowed to become warriors. This answer lights a fire within Mindy, inspiring her to try and make a change to the role of tribal women.

I instantly liked Mindy. She is clever and funny and writes as if she is talking just to you. Mindy needs to have her family’s blessing before she can embark on her journey, and this proves to be her first hurdle. Reading about what she does to get their blessing, and get to Africa was very entertaining. She has a very clever way of manipulating the truth whilst never doing anything to harm anyone.

Mindy returns to Kenya, where she ploughs head-first into her quest to join the group of non-English speaking men. She describes the hard work, her distaste of some of the traditions of the Maasai and whilst reading, you feel it all with her.

Not everything Mindy experiences is hard work, she easily finds a perfect American travelling partner as well as the right guide to take them into the jungle and straight through the rites of passage of a Maasai tribe. I’m not sure if these two achievements were really as easy as they seemed or whether it is just Mindy’s optimistic nature that made it appear that way. Either way it was great to read about things going to plan. She was determined to make the trek and getting there seemed quite smooth compared with the day-to-day activities of becoming one of the first female Maasai warriors.

I guess it depends on the type of person you are, but I was quite happy to experience Mindy’s journey through her writing rather than actually undertaking a similar trek through the African wilderness. I appreciated Mindy’s vivid descriptions of her time in the jungle. She made it clear why she had to embark on this journey and I’m so glad she penned her experience for others to enjoy.

“Topoika eyed me, and I knew he wanted me to jump, but I didn’t want to look like an ass. I would be lucky if I could heave myself up more than three inches off the ground. I continued on as a backup singer while Magilu sang and Maani jumped.

The singing and jumping continued in full force for at least another thirty minutes. My body and soul were owned by the music. Feeling as if the group was coming to life and telling me to jump, I replayed the step-by-step muscular movement and went for it. My knees bent and my legs reacted, allowing me to soar in the air. As my feet hit the ground, the earth and I exchanged energy while billows of dust formed around my boots. I was part of the dance, and the dance was part of me. And while I was only airborne for a moment, for that brief moment my inner warrior was leaping out of me. It gave me faith that I was on the right path”.

Mindy is now a Maasai warrior as well as an official member of the tribe. She has assisted in laying the foundations to having the law changed in Africa allowing women the right to become warriors. This law is due to be changed in 2016. Mindy is inspirational. She is very open about her personal failings and over time demonstrates what she has learnt from the Maasai. These ancient core values make sense of how to conduct oneself in the modern world. Warrior Princess is not the kind of book that I am normally drawn to however, I did enjoy it. It is an easy read and a wonderful account of a young woman finding her calling in life. Reading this may inspire you to take a leap of faith like Mindy did and listen to your inner voice and be rewarded for doing so in the end.

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You can find out more about Warrior Princess by Mindy Budgor here…

 

Tragedy: The Son-in-Law

Today’s post is a true triple-threat! One part review, one part author-interview and a give-away to sweeten the deal. Here’s what Carolyn thought of Charity Norman’s The Son-In-Law (Allen and Unwin)…

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“My mother used to say her wedding day was like a fairytale. It was a blue and gold morning, and a million daffodils rippled beneath the city walls. She and my father were young, beautiful and crazy about each other. 

Son-in-Law‘Don’t let people tell you love isn’t like in the films, Scarlet,’ she said. It was one of those moments when she seemed to be surfing right on top of a foaming, frothing wave of happiness…

She gave a little laugh, humming along to the jazz music she had playing on the stereo… For some reason, that evening is one of my clearest memories of Mum. She smelled of well, of Mum; her special sandalwood scent, and coffee and maybe wine. I’ve got one of her soft cardigans under my bed, and it still smells like her. If I press my face into it and shut my eyes, I can pretend it is her.”

The Son-In-Law is the latest novel by rising-star Charity Norman, and it tells the story of a family torn apart by a tragic episode, changing the course of the lives of three very young children.  The transcript of a 999 call made by a ten year old girl opens the book – the account is very real and immediately had the hairs on my arm standing on end. I read the transcript again because I couldn’t believe where I was about to taken by this beautiful and powerful novel, a story that will stay with me for a very long time.

This is a story told from three points of view. The first being Joseph who kills his wife in the presence of his three young children; his oldest child Scarlet and their Grandmother Hannah who, with her husband become the primary caregivers to their grandchildren after this tragic event.  Each narrator gives the reader a different perspective on the death of Zoe, a beautiful and charismatic wife, mother and daughter and on how they manage to carry on after such a sudden loss in their lives.

“I didn’t sleep that night. Not until three in the morning, anyway. I didn’t sleep the next night either, or the one after that, or any night in the days leading up to the court hearing. I felt more and more tired, but at the same time twitchy and tangled up.”

Before turning her skills to writing, Charity Norman practised as a high-powered barrister specialising in family law.  This, combined with a colourful upbringing, has allowed her to draw on personal experiences, delving into issues of mental health, domestic violence and the devastating results these factors can have on families.

From the very outset of the story you know that you will be faced with difficult dilemmas when deciding what is right for each character. I found myself loving each person no matter how self-centred their motives seemed to be.  The adult narrators in the story are at opposite ends of the argument, pulling Scarlet and her younger brothers from one side to the other.  This pull naturally causes guilt in the young characters thus leading to disturbed behaviours and actions which made me, the reader feel incredibly sad for them.  As much as I loved the adult characters, their selfishness is blinding and gets in the way, making them forget about what is right for the children. This is a central theme throughout this book, asking questions about what is the right and best outcome for this family?

“I wasn’t in a cheerful mood as we drove away. Far from it.  I looked back as we turned out of Faith Lane, and I could see two lost souls standing on the pavement. They were holding hands, which was something they never used to do in public. I felt so guilty. I wanted Dad to turn the car around and take us back.”

The Son-In-Law has secondary characters who through kindness and wisdom offer support to this family. Their opinions are put forward in the form of letters and court transcripts providing a depth to this story. I personally have not had to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude and it only made me more grateful to the people who dedicate their lives to helping others through the family courts.

I can highly recommend this book to you.  It had me sitting up until early hours of the morning because I needed to know the outcome for these powerful characters.  Whilst I cried for three quarters of the book (something that I secretly enjoy) Charity Norman gave me hope that life can take a different course and carry on beautifully for people who encounter such a traumatic road block in their early lives.

I was fortunate enough to be able to ask a few questions of Charity Norman…

Before you wrote The Son-In-Law, I understand that you practised as a barrister, specialising in family law.  ‘The Son-In-Law’ delves deeply into issues of domestic violence, family and mental health.  Is your book based on one specific incident?
I think the short answer is no. Years ago I did act for the children in a case where the father had murdered the mother and was asking for them to have contact with him while he was in prison. His case was utterly different to Joseph’s – as I recall he had killed her in cold blood and was going to be in prison for a very long time – but I remember sitting there in court while he was in the dock at the back, and thinking about the rights and wrongs of contact for such a man. That may have sown the idea in my mind, but no more than that. The book is entirely fictional, and influenced by numerous experiences rather than just the one.     

Charity NormanWas this a story that you wanted to tell for a while? Do you have more stories you wish to tell?
This story had been bubbling in a pot on my mental stove for a while, and seemed the right one to choose when I was thinking about what to write next. Yes, I have lots more stories that I’d like to tell! 

Your novel often had me in tears as I sympathised with each character.  How do you create such real emotion throughout the story?
Thank you – though sorry to make anyone cry! I don’t really have a conscious technique, but it helps me to take time to get to know my characters. I try to listen very carefully to each and walk in their shoes, really be that person in my head. It’s very like using empathy when you have a friend who’s in trouble – you listen to what they say – and also to what they don’t say – and you try to understand exactly what they are feeling. I do that with the characters. Then I write it down.   

Scarlet showed considerable maturity for a thirteen year old?  In your experience is this maturity normal for such a young person who has been through the life changing events that Scarlet had to go through?
Yes, I believe it is. To a degree, she’s taken on the role of carer for her younger brothers and found depths of maturity that she wouldn’t have had to otherwise. Of course, there are plenty of young children looking after even younger ones, for example in areas of the world where HIV has ravaged the population. They lose their childhoods even more than Scarlet has.

I do have a daughter who was Scarlet’s age as I was writing the book. She is definitely not Scarlet of course, but quite similar in terms of maturity, and I found it really helpful to know what a switched-on girl of that age might be thinking, saying and doing. At the launch of the book here in New Zealand, she read out the part of the panicking Scarlet in the prologue and I read the part of the emergency operator. I felt quite moved to hear her!

Why is it told through the first person for Scarlet and Hannah but not for Joseph?
Ah. I am so glad you asked me that! I spent weeks agonising about this. I wanted to make it very personal, so chose the first person for Scarlet and Hannah which I felt worked for them. Yet when I tried to give Joseph a first person voice, I found it just was not his voice. I think that’s because of who he is. He was always a more self-effacing type, not the sort who starts many sentences with the word ‘I’ – even more so after causing Zoe’s death, and the years in prison. He feels awful guilt and hides away on the moors. I just don’t think he wants to talk about himself. Oddly, I found this slight distance helped me to see him more clearly, rather than just seeing him as he sees himself.  

Have you had much correspondence from readers who have identified with some of the major themes in this book? If so were they positive or negative?
Not so far, though I am very grateful to those readers who have written to tell me that they like it. So far nothing negative, but I know there will be some who feel I was too generous to Joseph. I had lots of interesting feedback after ‘Freeing Grace’, which was about adoption; and again after ‘Second Chances’, which was about emigration, drug addiction and a teenager who is in deep trouble. Many people have said they identified with those themes, especially adoption.

I loved this book. Thank you for writing it and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I will be singing its praises for quite a while I think.
Thank you very much for that, and for your thoughtful questions –much appreciated!

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You’ve got a chance to win a copy of Charity’s book, courtesy of Allen and Unwin. All that you need to do to enter is email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au with the subject line ‘SON IN LAW’ and include your name and postal details. A winner will be chosen at random on 31.07.13 and notified by email.

Good luck!

If you’d like to find out more about The Son-in-Law, you can do so here…

 

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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Victorian raunch: Tangled Reins

This week TBYL Reviewer Carolyn Jones has been enjoying a bit of raunch in high society, with Tangled Reins, by Stephanie Laurens (Harlequin)…

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I love a bit a raunch in the books I read. I also love Victorian Literature so when I picked up Tangled Reins by Stephanie Laurens, I was more than a little bit excited  – I was pretty sure this book would deliver both. However, to my surprise, I found that there was much more to this story than ripped bodices and beautifully spoken English, and I was very happy to sit back and let Stephanie Laurens take the reins and lead me on a journey through high society of Regency England.

Tangled ReinsMiss Dorothea Darent had no intention of ever getting married – until a dashing stranger with hazel eyes kissed her under a blackberry tree.

Haunted by their kiss, the Marquis of Hazelmere – a notorious scoundrel – was determined to win Dorothea’s heart while she dazzled London socialites. Amidst shocked whispers, he swept Dorothea into her first waltz and sparked the jealous plots of lesser suitors.

Now Dorothea had a choice to make: stick with her plan to stay a respectable spinster, or run into the arms of her dashing stranger…

Nineteenth century England was a time of excess for the aristocracy.  Ruled by the Prince Regent (the future George IV) the young upper class society wiled away the season in high fashion, attending extravagant balls all while trying to attract their most suitable match to prepare them for the rest of their lives.

Tangled Reins is a romance novel and as you might expect, when we meet the two main characters their instant attraction can be felt immediately. The female lead Dorothea, an independent heiress who has reached the ripe old age of 22, is considered to be too old to find a husband (a fact which she doesn’t seem to mind too much).  From the beginning of the novel we understand that Dorothea is an intelligent woman and is perfectly happy in her spinsterhood.  That is until she is literally swept into a blackberry bush and into the seductive arms of the Marquis de Hazelmere.

“Horrified, she felt a sudden warmth rush through her, followed by an almost overwhelming urge to lean into that embrace, clearly poised to become even more passionate if she succumbed. No country admirer had dared kiss her like this!”

regencyInterestingly this novel lacks a strong male competitor for Dorothea’s affection, a character that we would find in most romance literature.  Instead the author drives the romance forward by painting a picture of the mystery and intrigue of why Dorothea and Hazelmere cannot be together.  While I was reading, I kept wondering why they were holding back and then, had to remind myself that although Stephanie Laurens romance is racier than traditional Victorian literature, her story is still set about 200 years ago when single folk had rules to follow in order to maintain their reputation.  The mere idea of pre-marital sex would cause scandal and alarm for readers of the period. For us though, reading about such scandalous behaviour actually happening in Regency England adds a little bit of spice to the novel.

“His response was all she could have wished.  Turning her slightly, Hazelmere swiftly bent his head to drop the most delicate of kisses on her lips.  As he raised his head her eyes opened wide. For one long moment they remained perfectly still, the hazel and green gazes fusing in the moonlight…With infinite care he started her sensual education, his caresses deepening in imperceptible degrees so that her sense were never overwhelmed, but taught, step by steady step, to savour the exquisite delight he created.  His control was absolute and Dorothea, enfolded in his care, for the first time in her life, willingly let go of the reins.”

Stephanie Laurens is a modern day author who has chosen to become an historical romantic novelist.  In her story, Regent England has become Stephanie’s third main character to great effect.  If I could travel back in time, this is where I would program the time machine to take me.  Of course I would need to have the money and status to attend some of these spectacular parties. I would love the elaborate gowns and I’m sure that from all the period dramas I have read and seen on the television I would speak as eloquently as the English – I’d fit in quite well!  The parties, the rides in the park and the fashions are so wonderful to read about that it’s easy to lose oneself in the frivolous ways of the rich. Reading Tangled Reins I was imagining a life of endless money, parties to attend, dreaming to be as attractive as Dorothea. I’d like to think how great I could be if only I could get the time machine working!

Dorothea, our heroine is a very likeable character.  From the outset she claims the only reason she would change her present state would be love… she is content without a ring on her finger.  She is a very strong woman and can master her composure with ease.  She plays hard to get because she wants to be sure that her suitor’s feelings are real. She is independent both in persona and financial status and so is in the fortunate position where she doesn’t have to find a husband to maintain her standard of living.  These attributes only add to her likeability, she’s a character who proves that you don’t need a man to be happy.

Stephanie’s other main character, Hazelmere, is also very agreeable.  The author tells the story through his eyes at times, an unusual choice for a romance novel such as this, especially one set in Victorian England where the male protagonists are typically dark and mysterious.

The attraction between Hazelmere and Dorothea is intense and Laurens illustrates this by describing their eyes; Dorothea’s oversized green eyes and the Marquis’ twinkling hazel set.  I’d have to say that this is one of the areas that could have been improved on – it seemed that both characters’ physical attributes paled in comparison to their orbs.  There are only so may ways in which a writer can describe two people looking at each other and Laurens captures this over and over again and in the same way, perhaps a few too many times!

Tangled Reins is a very easy read, light and romantic, and laden with sexual innuendos.  Rest assured, there are more explicit scenes than other novels written in the time that this book was set, making it more relevant for the modern day reader whilst still capturing the period nicely. The love-struck couple are very well matched both intellectually and physically and so the reader embarks on a time in history where romance is made all the more exciting when one has to compete with other suitors, handle abduction scares and deal with gossip about the sizzling chemistry between the two main characters.  Stephanie Laurens has written several novels set in this time and I think she has done her research well.  I don’t think I will race back to read all of her books, however, if I was on holiday and one of her books came my way, I wouldn’t pass it up.  If historical romances are your favourite genre then I think you will find Tangled Reins well worth a read.

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You can find out more about Tangled Reins, by Stephanie Laurens here…

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Blue fire: Indigo Awakening

Today, TBYL Reviewer, Carolyn Jones introduces us to the Indigo Children of Jordan Dane’s Indigo Awakening (Harlequin)…

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Jordan Dane’s young adult novel Indigo Awakening introduces us to a complex and intriguing idea, bringing us the Indigo Children.

Indigo AwakeningDuring the 1970s, a pseudoscientific new-age theory emerged introducing the world to a new group of people. According to this new notion, children are born with unique and paranormal abilities and are considered to be the next stage of evolution in mankind – they are the Indigo Children. Jordan uses this set of ideas as the basis for her newest novel.

Set in present day Los Angeles, seventeen year old Rayne Darby begins her story on a quest to locate her missing younger brother, Lucas.  She struggles to know where to start, as all she knows is that Lucas has escaped the private mental hospital their older sister had him committed to after the death of their parents.  Rayne has never recovered from the guilt she feels for allowing the committal of her brother to this hospital, and so sets out to find him.

As she begins her search, the only thing that Rayne knows for sure is that she needs to trust her instincts and keep this quest a secret from her older sister, as well as from the adults who run the hospital.

In good fortune, Rayne meets Gabriel – a tall, dark and handsome young man who, from the moment she lays eyes on him, evokes feelings of real love and safety. And, he isn’t your average boy… rather, he is accompanied by a ghost dog, screams silent rage and catches on fire.  With an introduction like that, Rayne realises that she needs this strange and fascinating boy’s help to find her brother.

“The damned thing moved and drifted like a ghost. Rayne could’ve sworn it never touched the ground. She blinked twice, but the phantom dog didn’t go away, and that boy never looked down. Frozen in that moment with him, Rayne felt strangely calm and watched as he kept his face lifted toward the night sky. She thought things couldn’t get any weirder, but when that ghost dog brushed against him –

The boy caught fire.

Blue fire.”

At the same time, we meet a gang of teenagers living in the abandoned and forgotten underground of L.A.  These are no ordinary teenagers, they have the ability to communicate telepathically – they are Indigo Children.  Some have stronger powers than others but all are on a common mission to locate the many misunderstood Indigo Children to keep them safe from the “Believers”.  The Believers are adults running a fanatical church, who spend their time hunting Indigo teens in order to run scientific and inhumane research, mostly involving tests on the brains of these children.

The author of this book, Jordan Dane, takes the reader on an action-packed ride, building suspense throughout each chapter.  She has created strong female characters, all of whom have a power over the males in their lives.  She nurtures and grows each character so that readers will empathises with them in their struggle against a conspiracy-lead adult world.

This novel is young adult fiction and I believe Jordan Dane beautifully describes the angst and fear that is associated with first love.  She describes the transformations that the Indigo Children experience so vividly all while managing to let the reader know how these young adults are struggling with their own misunderstandings of their powers.  I believe the author did a stellar job at knowing her market, making children stand together as one to fight adults in a very one-sided world.  She also taps into relevant pop culture making reference to current music groups and comedy shows to engage her audience.

Indigo Awakening is the first book in the “Hunted” series and can be read as a stand alone novel or as the introduction to a new series. Interestingly, Jordan Dane does what so many young adult stories do these days, ending the novel with a cliffhanger, ‘encouraging’ readers to buy into the franchise.  Fortunately an excerpt of the follow-up novel is provided.  I can see this story being made into a film with state-of-the-art special effects following the lead of other young adult franchises such as The Hunger Games and Twilight.

Indigo Awakening is a good read and contains strong lead characters that may empower young readers to trust their instincts. Using the city of L.A. as the backdrop, this fast moving city symbolises the confusion that all teens feel at some point in their lives.

I have read quite a bit of paranormal teen fiction in the last few months so believing in the powers of Indigo Children was not too difficult for me.  For those who are new to this genre I do think Indigo Awakening might be a tad hard to get into at first, as the start of the novel introduces a large number of characters with little explanation of what motivates them.  Perhaps this is the trick to Jordan Dane’s intrigue but I found it to be a little too rushed and had to force myself to sit down for a long period just to get into the story.  However, if you love young adult stories or even paranormal fiction then I think you will enjoy this novel.  Considering there really is a phenomenon surrounding Indigo Children I believe some readers will be enticed to learn more about this idea and the conspiracy theories associated with it.

If you’d like to find out more about Jordan Dane’s Indigo Awakening, visit the website here…

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A delicious story: The Storyteller’s Daughter

I’m thrilled to be able to welcome our newest TBYL Reviewer to the team – the amazing Carolyn Jones! Welcome Carolyn, I can’t wait to share your wonderful reviews!

Over the summer break, Carolyn read The Storyteller’s Daughter, by Maria Goodin (Allen and Unwin) and kindly shares her thoughts on it today…

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storyteller's daughterThe Storyteller’s Daughter is a tale of a young and intelligent woman who suddenly leaves her ordered life and promising career as a geneticist to look after her sick Mother.  Meg May believes her mother to be crazy, largely due to that fact that she has always avoided answering direct questions, rather replacing factual answers with a wonderful, imaginative concoction of make-believe centred around food; Val’s favourite thing in the world.  As a result, all that Meg remembers from her early childhood is a mixture of stories created by Val.

“She was always such a sweet girl. When she was little she was so sweet I used to dip her toes in my tea. It saved me a fortune on buying sugar. I used to lend her out to the neighbours. ‘Don’t bother buying sugar,’ I used to tell them, ‘my daughter’s the sweetest thing around and she doesn’t rot your teeth.’”

I found it hard, in the beginning, to warm to Meg while she distanced herself from her mother’s creativity and focussed on the factual. However, Maria Goodin develops this character gently so that I was able to find a place in my heart for her.  If you want to make the perfect sponge cake you need to prepare the batter carefully for it rise.  Meg’s memory is peppered with holes and she wants more than anything to fill those gaps.  So much so that she feels she has to grow up well before her time and to become the parent to her fantastical and eccentric mother.  Throughout the novel Meg takes a journey of discovery, learning about her past and interestingly, surrounding herself with others who prefer make-believe over concrete and scientific evidence.

The other characters this novel serves up all have a tale to tell, some factual and others mythological, but all delightful for the reader to immerse themselves in.

Upon starting The Storyteller’s Daughter, I must admit, I thought I knew where the narrative was going, following a recipe of a strained mother-daughter relationship.  How wrong could I be?!  Even though Val makes up stories to hide behind her own past, the reader can’t help but be intrigued by her colourful accounts.  The stories are delicious and I could imagine how cosy it would be to sit by the Aga in Val’s kitchen, with the aromas of baking buttery pastries, sipping on a cup of tea and tasting her famous raspberry tartlets all the while savouring exotic tales of a beautiful time and relationship between mother and daughter.

I really enjoyed this book, it allows the reader to conjure up images of delectable treats, baked goods, abundant vegetable gardens, orchards and a delightful English cottage, all in order to tell a story of two people facing their past and present.  I was moved to the point of tears at times as Val and Meg learn what it means to truly love someone.  Some elements of the story made me laugh but it was the unexpected outcomes that made more of an impact.  The Storyteller’s Daughter was a great holiday read and it left me feeling satisfied, just like one does after an afternoon of eating (including dessert).

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You can find out more about Maria Goodin’s The Storyteller’s Daughter here…

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