tbyl reviewers

Reading under the stars: Big Sky River

TBYL Reviewer, Tam J has been busy with some summer reading, on her camping trip! Under the stars, by the beach and around the campfire, she’s been reading Linda Lael Miller’s latest Big Sky River from Harlequin. She’s kindly shared her thoughts…

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Big sky riverWell, what a way to spend the first couple of days on my camping trip! I have just finishing reading Big Sky River, by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin), the follow-on book to Linda Lael Miller’s Big Sky Mountain which I reviewed a few months back and I have to say I quite enjoyed this light, romantic novel.

In this most recent instalment, we follow the story of the town of Parable’s very own handsome Sheriff Boone Taylor, a man who is trying to get his life back together after the passing of his wife. His children are being raised by his sister while he is consumed with grief. We are also privy to the story of Boone’s neighbour, ex-city girl Tara Kendall who, after a painful divorce is reinventing herself and living her childhood dream – setting up a life in the country and starting a chicken farm.

I was introduced to these characters in Big Sky Mountain, and to say that Tara and Boone don’t get along is quite the understatement. Even though Tara may need the help of her cowboy neighbour occasionally, she sees him as the country hick who lives across the river from her in the run down double-wide he calls a home. In turn, Boone sees Tara as a stuck up chick from the city who has no right to call herself a country girl.

Big Sky River moves their story forward with new, major challenges. Due to a family tragedy, Boone’s two sons return to live with him and his life truly begins to change.  So does Tara’s, when her twin step daughters unexpectantly come to spend Summer with her on the ranch. She’d given up hope that she would ever be permitted to spend time with the girls she loved more than life itself, and their reunion is an emotional one.

And then, due to reasons neither Boone or Tara can explain, other than it’s written in the stars, Boone and Tara’s relationship starts to take a turn and gives them both hope – perhaps it is safe to believe in second chances?!

I enjoyed the fact that in this novel we are not only able to get to know the characters of Boone and Tara better, but we are also updated on other previous favourites such as Hutch and Kendra, and Slade and Joslyn. Not to forget the ever-involved housekeeper, Opal who continues to play mother hen and matchmaker all over again.

This was a light easy read and covered lots of the bases…romance, sexual tension, tragedy, angst, second chances, hope and lovely descriptions of country life in Parable Montana. Wonderful Summer reading!

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You can find out more about Linda’s latest Big Sky novel here…

Adventurous History: The Tombs

Looks like I’ve encouraged TBYL reviewer, Fiona Boyd to ‘read differently’ too…

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The Tombs, by Clive Cussler and Thomas Perry (Penguin) is the first book I’ve read in the contemporary adventure genre, and I must admit to thinking Mandi (of That Book You Like…) may have been a little crazy in sending it to me to review. I’m much better known for being a big consumer of psychological thrillers and detective fiction, especially those that involve woman protagonists. My favourite author to read would probably be the famous Agatha Christie, though Kerry Greenwood comes close on her heels, as I so love the Hon. Phyrne Fisher character.

Clive Cussler’s new release (written with Thomas Perry) is not my usual reading fare, but I guess it’s fair to say that it does have some plot features in common with my usual reads. It’s full of twists, turns and boundless adventure. So much adventure, in fact, that I found myself feeling exhausted as I lay on a Whitsunday Island beach on holiday, while I made my way through this book. It’s action packed, with no shortage of magnetometers and quite a lot of guns!

Casting my eye around, observing the adults reading around the pool, I spotted quite a few copies of E.L. James Fifty Shades of Grey and Katherine Stockett’s The Help in the hands of female readers. I also spotted a couple of Catherine Fox novels and Kerry Greenwood’s latest Unusual Habits. In the hands of the guys I saw plenty of Tom Clancy and of course, Clive Cussler’s The Tombs.

The opening pages of the story take us back to the 5th century AD in the time of Attila the Hun, specifically to his untimely death on his wedding night to Goth bride Ildico, and his subsequent burial….

“Priscus went to the white tent the next day and found the High King being prepared for burial in the fiery light of a hundred flaming lamps. Attila’s retainers placed him in a series of three coffins. The outer and largest one was made of iron. The coffin placed inside it was made of solid silver. The third was pure gold. The coffins were packed with the jeweled weapons of the many kings Attila had defeated.”

With all that loot, Attila’s people were hardly going to bury him anywhere obvious…

“The elite horsemen of the burial detail were returning to the great encampment of the Huns…. When the thousand riders drew up, they dismounted and bowed to the assembled chiefs…Ellak, the eldest heir of Attila, stepped up to the leader of the burial party, a man named Mozhu. He put his hand on Mozhu’s shoulder and said. “Tell us.”

Mozhu said, “We took the High King to a place in the bend of a river far away where travelers seldom pass. We built a crypt as deep as two men are tall, with a sloping entrance, and carried the coffins to the bottom. Then we covered the crypt and the sloping passage. We herded our thousand horses across the area many times until it was impossible to pick out the precise spot where the crypt was buried. Then we diverted the river so it will flow deep over the High King’s tomb forever.”

Whew! No wonder Attila’s remains have remained unfound and undisturbed. That’s a lot of effort going towards making sure all that gold, jewellery and bounty made it to the afterlife with Attila the Hun.

Now that’s where “The Tombs” starts but not nearly where it ends. Our key protagonists in this novel are adventurers and treasure hunters, Sam and Remi Fargo, who due to a successful sale of a business have been able to spend their time helping out archeologists and historical researchers on ancient sites, most of which seem to involve some kind of buried treasure. How’s that for a life?!

Their dear friend, the respected Roman historian and archeologist, Albrecht Fischer has made the important discovery in Hungary  of an unusual corpse  and enlists the Fargos’ to help him quietly get back into the country and excavate the rest of the site. In doing so, the Fischer’s helpers find another 999 corpses. Mysteriously, all are decapitated and all have their weapons were buried with them. An enigma, but not the only one as the group finds a mysterious message from Attila the Hun that indicates that this site is one of five important positions involved in his burial and that in the others, much treasure and bounty from his years of taking territory through Europe and Asia can be found.

Not surprisingly, Sam and Remi take on the task of finding the remaining sites while their researchers and Dr Fischer head back home do the decoding of the cryptic messages revealed in this adventure. The Tombs rockets along seemingly in its own time and space, I often wondered how this couple could do so much in so little time and without much rest and recovery. However, be assured, Cussler and Perry make sure their heroes are always well-fed and appropriately dressed. Their Attila adventure takes them to Hungary, France, Transylvania (in Romania), Russia and finally to Rome, and interestingly, we get to find out their precise dinner arrangements at every location. The Fargos sure eat well on their adventures.

As they progress through this adventure, the Fargos make friends of local police and seem to be able to find the good guys in every territory. Nonetheless, they also cross paths and intents with the dreaded Arpad Bako, a wealthy businessman and black marketer who claims to be descended from Attila the Hun and seems to have made the warrior and the finding of this tomb, his own private obsession. He has equally unpleasant associates – in France, a Etienne Le Clerc and in Russia, Sergei Poliokoff, whose country estate is blown up by the Fargos. Not that the Fargos are terror-loving people mind you, it just seems that wherever they go trouble finds them and they need to do extreme things to extricate themselves.

The Tombs is a pleasant adventure romp through history and through Europe and culminates in the finding of serious amounts of treasure and the revelation of some of Attila the Hun’s well hidden secrets. The ending of the story also sees a fitting conclusion for the bad buys, although I found it somewhat unusual that the novel would end with shootings and houses being blown up, to me it seem to conclude nicely without this.

Anyway, if you’re about to head off on holidays and don’t want to be bored, take The Tombs with you and have a heart-thumping read! It’s got history, adventure, food, and a happy ending. What more could you want from a blokes-own-adventure story?

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You can find out more about The Tombs, by Clive Cussler and Thomas Perry here

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Rugged romance: Big Sky Mountain

This week, TBYL Reviewer Tam Jenkin tell us all about Linda Lael Miller’s Big Sky Mountain (Harlequin).

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When you open this book you’ll be immediately whisked to the small western town of Parable, Montana, where Hutch Carmody is living, narrowly dodging what could have been the worst mistake of his life…

“Hutch Carmody is as much a part of the land as his favourite hideout, the mountain overlooking Whisper Creek Ranch, his home since birth. With both parents gone, he’s the sole owner, and he’s determined to keep it that way. After ditching one bride at the altar, he’s not in the market for another, but his feelings for former flame Kendra Shepherd aren’t so easy to shake off. She’s beautiful, she’s sexy and she’s smart – everything Hutch wants and admires in a woman – but she’s already burned him once, running off to England to marry a title and a lot of money. Now she’s back in Parable, with a small daughter in tow, he’s jumpy as cold water on a hot griddle.

Kendra, determined to raise her little girl with all the emotional security she didn’t have as a child, sees Parable, with its down-home values and salt-of-the- earth folks, as the perfect place to do that. She’s not about to complicate matters with a husband, having learned the hard way that’s she’s better off on her own than married. Even if she wanted a man in her life, though, she certainly wouldn’t be stupid enough to choose a renegade rancher-cowboy like Hutch.

So what if he makes her heart race like a runaway thoroughbred?”

I enjoyed this outback, western romance – a story about a town with a wonderful range of characters, all with interesting back-stories. Hutch and Kendra share a passionate past and having both drifted into different lives, find themselves both back in Parable, and both single. The attraction is immediate and the fight to resist one another is immediate. Kendra has returned home with her young stepdaughter, Madison, after her ex-husband passed away, having been granted full custody. She is hoping to bring up Madison in the small town with its values and love that she so craved when she was young. She knows that getting involved with an ex-lover who hurt her so badly is a very bad idea – but will she be able to resist?

The family housekeeper, Opal was perhaps my favourite character in this story. She is a stereotypical older woman who has a high standing in the community, who observes all the goings on, (and of course has her opinion on them), and has known everyone since they were born. She takes Hutch under her wing, inviting herself to move in and look after him after his near wedding was called off. She then takes it upon herself to get Hutch and Kendra back together, just where she believes they should be.

Big Sky Mountain is a lovely story with just the right amount of angst, intrigue, small town traditions, ruggedly handsome cowboys, and of course sexual attraction. After reading this novel I discovered that it is actually the second book in a series about Big Sky, the first being Big Sky Country, but I am happy to say that the back story is told very thoroughly throughout and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not having read the first book.

If you’d like to find out more about this book, check it out here…

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No sound sleep here: Goodbye Lullaby

I’m having so much fun at the moment, building a team of TBYL Reviewers! These guys really love to read, and it’s so wonderful to have some different voices on the blog!

This week, I’m really pleased to introduced you to Fiona Boyd, who’s recently read Goodbye Lullaby (Harlequin) by Jan Murray.

By all accounts, it sounds like quite a read…

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How much did I love Jan Murray’s first novel Goodbye Lullaby? A Google search reveals Murray as a woman who’s lived a big life, full of quite amazing experiences, and who has a huge amount of various kinds of writing under her belt. The writing in Goodbye Lullaby is so fresh and captivating, like the vibrant greens of the Daintree vegetation, she describes. You can truly experience the complex smells and sounds of rainforest country of her story.  Murray’s descriptions of the landscape in the early chapters of this novel are so tactile and compelling, I literally wanted to jump on a plane and head up to Cairns.

Goodbye Lullaby contains many stories that weave delicately into each other, however my reading of the novel was as a girls’ road story. I found it incredibly refreshing – how rare it is for the central characters leaving behind home and hearth, convention and tradition, expectation and role, to be young women and not rascally boys! That’s right, this story brings us two girls on the run from a belligerent and noxious conservatism dictating that which a teenage girl should do, in particular if she finds herself pregnant in 1950s Queensland.

The truth of this time, as noted in the introduction to Goodbye Lullaby is that between the 1950s and 1970s, over 150,000 Australian unwed mothers had their babies forcibly removed from them by government agencies and religious institutions. As horrendous as this is, it doesn’t even take into account The Stolen Generation, babies and young children being taken from their aboriginal mothers. The numbers are staggering.

This novel is a road story and a statement, and it’s also a story about the possibility of making a decent and independent life beyond trauma and tragedy. In turn, it’s about the timelessness of  girls’ bonds of friendship and camaraderie forged under high pressure in teenage years.

The lynchpin of Murray’s story is the conscription lottery and the drawing of the lottery marbles on ABC television across the nation. This lottery will determine whether Caroline ‘Miki’ Patrick’s son, who she gave up for adoption after failing to make life on the road work, will serve. His number is drawn, he is conscripted and so unfolds a series of events that allow the various threads of the story to weave into each other.

Australia has a number of issues from its not-so-distant past that have until recently been thoroughly swept under society’s rug, a rug that was not be lifted. Even worse, we’ve perpetuated a society that has done terrible things to its citizens, particularly its young ones and its mothers. To add insult to injury, those wronged were in turn forbidden to speak, to tell their stories. Jan Murray does some big talking for those who’ve had their stories suppressed. Goodbye Lullaby unpacks the forced adoption era – there’s an absolutely heartbreaking scene of aboriginal children being taken from their family’s camps for not being ‘fully’ black, there’s the confusion that was the conscription years of the 1960s and 1970s, and then there’s the illustrations of the general mistreatment of young woman of the era.

The action of the story takes place in Queensland in the 1950s and 1970s. As I was reading, I kept hearing the strains of the Go-Betweens “Cattle and Cane” and “Streets of Your Town.”  Like this book, they were songs looking back on a time in Queensland when men threw their weight around and everyone else cowered, and the only powerful women seemed to be the Catholic nuns running the schools, orphanages and hospitals.

As well as the character of Caroline ‘Miki’ Patrick, the second major character in Goodbye Lullaby is Jude Brenner, a Jewish girl who has lost her parents in a car accident and is being brought up by her aunt who’s moved to suburban Brisbane from Brooklyn to care for her. Jude Brenner is a strong character, full of teenage chutzpah and with a joyful nonchalance towards the bully in the schoolyard. Her refusal to bow to the authority of the schoolyard bully is a motif that is repeated through the novel as Jude becomes the one character whose lust for life is not dimmed by her experiences and environment and who continues to go at life full tilt and with maximum joy. Here strength sees her become a politics professor in New York and like Miki Patrick, a known protestor of the Vietnam war.

I must say, even though the novel was written from the point of view of Caroline ‘Miki’ Patrick, my favourite characters were the Americans – Jude Brenner and Rex Lapari, the ex-US marine with one leg who runs the Resistance Bookshop in Fortitude Valley Brisbane. They’re the energetic and outgoing outsiders in the claustrophobic conservatism of 1950s to 1970s Australia. They’re both fresh, irreverent and caring. These two characters present a new way to deal with social issues. Discussing them, tackling them head on, dealing with them, and not submitting to a higher force.

Goodbye Lullaby is a terrific read. Jan Murray draws on her own experiences and those of peers and relatives to give the reader an inside view on the social conditions in 1970s Australia that gave rise to a number of social movements – feminism, aboriginal rights, the peace movement. All of these elements are packed into a single girls’ road story, it’s impressive! My only sadness was that Miki and Jude failed in their adventure, and that the conditions of their era bore down so completely on them. How cool would it have been if they’d succeeded? I was so willing them to do so, however I realise that that would have been a story of our times and not theirs.

And the lullaby – well you’ll just need to read that book to find out what that means!

Goodbye Lullaby, by Jan Murray is due to be released by Harlequin Mira in September. You can find out more here…

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Fiona lives in bayside Melbourne and has a background in the street press and radio. She worked at ABC Radio in the mid 1990s and from 1996 has been involved in co-founding various online publishing ventures. She has three children and is working on her first novel. You can find out a little more about Fiona here.

I’m really looking forward to bringing you more of Fiona’s reviews in the near future.

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Tuesday bites…

I’m in the city today, in day-job mode, but I thought I’d sneak a little blogging in over lunch time. Here’s a couple of bites to brighten up your Tuesday afternoon…

1. Have you checked out this great little video from National Year of Reading 2012? It’s now been converted to cinema format… let me know if you spot it?!

2. It’s Spring, and I’ve been hit by the Spring cleaning bug worse than ever before. Planning my approach, I thought that my workspace might be a pretty great place to start, and these tips from Mum’s Business should give me just the kick-start I need.

3. Do you think I could sneak off to Brisbane this week? Okay, perhaps not, but those of you in sunny Queensland might like to check out the Brisbane Writers Festival. It starts tomorrow!

4. Lastly, if you’ve not already done so, why don’t you pop on over and meet our two new TBYL Reviewers? I can’t wait to bring you lots of reviews from the lovely Tam and Kathy!

What’s your afternoon shaping up like?

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Out Now! TBYL News: All Things Bookish… September 2012

Spring is in the air, and TBYL News: All Things Bookish… is in your inbox!


TBYL News
 is a great way to catch up on recent reviews, upcoming news and words from my lovely special guests. This month I had a chat to a few of you guys about why you love reading so much, plus I’ve been catching up with our brand new TBYL Reviewers!

 
And of course, you’ll find exclusive newsletter specials at The Store!

Click here to read TBYL News: All Things Bookish, September 2012

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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