Tag Archives: Australia

Summer Read: Page Turner Novel Takes Us to Australia–Then and Now

Destination: The Blue Mountains, Australia

Book: Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman (New in paperback, first published in 2014)


This book was just plain FUN!  Not that the characters were always having fun.  Au contraire, the life of an heiress in one of the parallel plots, set in the 1920s, was not as carefree as you might imagine. And the love story of the waitress in the tony resort where the heiress, her brother and her finance and his thugish pals were spending some away time, becomes a nightmare before the novel ends.

In the second plot, set in 2014, a young woman trying to escape her smother mother, flees to the same Blue Mountains where the heiress had vacationed. There she gets a job waiting tables in a cafe. The old resort is in ruins, but is undergoing restoration, so as the present day waitress fires up her own romance, she also finds hints of a 1920’s love affair that make her want to find out who was involved and how it turned out.

Just as in Lighthouse Bay, (the earlier book by Kimberley Freeman that I reviewed here), the two interwoven plots have us bouncing between the past and the present in one place.

While I recommended Lighthouse Bay for a summer read, I like this one even better. And talk about a book making you want to GO Somewhere, how would you like to stay at a glam resort in this location? (Just remember Australia seasons are reverse of U.S., so go in THEIR summer. Winter could be brutal (see the book.)

Blue Mountains Australia
Blue Mountains of Australia. This gorgeous picture is by Tony Fernandez, found at Flickr.com

We want to know to, and that’s what kept the pages turning, and the vacuuming undone, as I read-read-read about these delightful characters.  Australian writer Kimberley Freeman has a way with creating likable and interesting characters–each distinct–never sliding into romance novel stereotypes.

The setting is charming, and made me do a bit of research to find out where these remote Blue Mountains of Australia are. Turns out they are not so remote after all, their foothills spilling into the suburban enclaves of Sidney.  However, the area is huge and you can definitely get away from civilization–even living the life of the wealthy in the early 20th century in classic old resorts.

So dive in.  You don’t have a lot of time left for summer reading–but this romance- adventure-mystery visit to Australia is just the ticket for a fun read.

Here Kimberley Freeman talks about her inspiration for the book.

Note: This post contains links to Amazon, in case you’d like to buy one of these books. You should know that I am an Amazon affiliate, so anything you buy, although it costs you no more, earns me a few pennies.

The publisher provided me with a paperback copy of this book for review, which is standard practice, and in no way influences what I recommend to you.

COMING SOON: A book for Emily Dickinson fans and a book set in Germany during World War II that is possibly my favorite of the year. Stay tuned. Tell your friends they can subscribe for free updates, just like you do. You DO, don’t you? And you know that I would NEVER use your information for anything other than this subscription?

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Best Summer Reads/Beach Reads

Are you ready to shop for some good summer reads?

Summer Reading

What is a “summer read” or a “beach read,” anyhow? For travelers who read, it probably involves

  • Visiting some far off place. Preferably the place that you will be traveling to for your summer break.
  • Books that can keep your mind off the physics of holding a jet plane in the air while you’re flying on an airplane.
  • Books that are gripping enough that you can get lost in them, but don’t take enormous amounts of brain power.
  • Books that can be left behind at the B & B or the beach house for the next reader.

Here are some that I’ve read that I think meet the criteria, starting with two romance adventures by British writer Lucy Clarke and then a new book in the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

A Q & A with the author in the back of the book A Single Breath, show why Lucy Clarke writes good books for travel-reading.

Q According to your author bio, you and your husband spend your winters traveling.  How does travel inform and inspire your writing?

A:  There is something about slinging a few belongings into a bag and heading off on a plane, train, or ferry that gives me the most incredible sense of freedom.  The break from routine, the stepping out of one’s ordinary world and into another, is surely good for the sould…I’m intrigued to see how characters behave outside the usual parameters of their daily lives.  Routine can be limiting, so I like to explore what happens when a character is taken out of their comfort zone and dislocated from their family and friends.


Swimming at Night, by Lucy Clarke (2013 in U.S.  Released in G.B. as The Sea Sisters.) [Destinations: Australia and Bali]

Both these books, romance-adventures, start with a death of someone close to the main character–in this case a sister dies in far-off Bali.  Coming to grips with the death of her sister Mia, Kate, the “sensible” sister, finds it hard to accept the conclusion that it was a suicide. Mia was the wild, sea-loving sister who found London stifling. Uncharacteristically, Kate, who thrives on routine in her London office job, grabs her sisters travel journal and her worn backpack and sets out to trace Mia’s steps from England to California, Australia and Bali.

Using the journal as a guide to the journey as well as a guide to understanding the complex relationship between her and her sister, Kate discovers things about herself as well as about Mia. Three men provide the romantic partnerships–one for Mia, one for Kate and one for both of them.

Clarke, who travels with her husband, a professional wind surfer, excels at description of the sea and the seaside. The pace is swift, the characters endearingly complex, and despite the fact that I am not a big fan of romances–this one had enough adventure and suspense that it kept me turning the pages.


A Single Breath by Lucy Clarke (NEW April 2014) [Destination: Tasmania]

In A Single Breath, the death is of the protagonist’s husband, and while the relationship may not resonate with everyone as strongly as that of the loss of a sister, it contains the same ingredients of romance and family secrets revealed in an exotic locale as does Swiming at Night.

A Single Breath is set in Tasmania.  Now there’s a place that you don’t often get to visit in a novel! Eva and Jackson live in London until he suddenly disappears.  Wanting to know more, she flies to Australia with a very good friend and takes the ferry to a small island off Tasmania where Jackson grew up.

There she meets his father and his brother and learns things about her husband that catch her (and the reader) by surprise. Reminders of her romantic days with Jackson are not enough to spice up the book, so we have the added frisson of an attraction to Jackson’s brother.


Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr (2014) Review of unabridged audio book from Macmillan Audio, Read by Barbara Rosenblat. [Destination: Northern Minnesota.]

Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series follows the adventures of a middle-aged woman park ranger through many of the National Parks in the United States.  Destroyer Angel, however, takes place on Forest Service land in the deep woods of northern Minnesota because Anna is on vacation. Some vacation it turns out to be!

Barr excels in putting the reader into the location and in creating memorable characters.  Besides the intrepid Anna Pigeon, the cast of characters here includes Leah,  a woman who seems to be close to an Asperger’s Syndrome personality. She designs camping equipment for the handicapped and is really only happy when tinkering and considering engineering problems.  Then there is the paraplegic Heath who is testing new equipment, Heath’s daughter, a capable fifteen-year-old, and Leah’s babyish thirteen-year-old Katie, who Leah has trouble relating to.

Those friends of Anna are an interesting lot, but they don’t hold a candle to the fascinating personalities of the thugs who invade the camp with kidnap on their minds.  Anna is out in her canoe when the thugs appear, so she spends the rest of the novel skulking through the woods in their pursuit as her friends suffer increasingly difficult situations.  The threats to the characters mount in breathtakingly scary incidents piled on hardships inflicted by a cooly evil boss and his henchmen who are varying degrees of stupid and mean.

If you get the book, be warned that it may take you a while to get into it.  All those fascinating characters take some time to get used to, but once the introductory chapters are past, the action never stops.  On the audio book, the reader, Barbara Rosenblat, does a wonderful job of differentiating characters and keeping up with the pace of the book.


You might want to check some of my past recommendations for Beach Reading here and here. And perhaps another summer read here and some tips here.

OR–If you want to read about the specific place where you’re going to travel (and it is not Tasmania, Bali or Minnesota!), check  out the “Where Do You Want to Go?” box in the sidebar on the right (or at the bottom of the page if you’re reading on a mobile device). The drop down list will show you all the places that have been covered at A Traveler’s Library.

Notes: The publisher provided me with a hardback copy of Swimming at Night and a paperback copy of A Single Breath.  Macmillan provided the audio copy of Destroyer Angel. The copies were provided for review with no requirements that the reviews be positive.

Links to Amazon are here for your convenience, but A Traveler’s Library also earns a couple of cents when you order through those links. (Even though it costs you no more.) Thank you so much for your support.

Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country — Family Adventures Down Under

Family Travel

Destination: Australia

Book: In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

By Powell Berger

Ask Bill Bryson about Australia and he makes three points quite clear:

(1) The place is huge, so huge in fact that when a rogue activist group reportedly detonated a test nuclear device in the outback, no one even knew about it for years.  No one heard it, felt it, had any inkling whatsoever for years. That’s big.

(2) You’re more likely to die in Australia than anywhere else in the world, particularly if your chosen death method is by wild and woolly beast. Between the sharks, crocodiles, blue octopi, and tiny microscopic jellyfish that can kill you before you even feel them, stepping out of your car and into the wilds is, according to Bryson,  a death wish.

(3) The country and its quirky, opinionated, hard-ridden, passionate and sometimes half-baked crazy people can worm their way into your soul and never let go.

With Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country as our testimonial to all things Australian, it’s no wonder I chose to ignore the death wish mantra and make Australia our jumping off point for our Family Vagabonding adventures over five years ago.

Bill Bryson didn't find this spot.
Austin and Emmi at the Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island, off the coast of Adelaide (and ironically, a spot that even Bryson doesn’t cover in his book.)

I first read the book on my annual sabbatical – a respite I give myself every year where I go somewhere, alone, to read and reflect and plan what’s next. And so it was in a quiet little wine bar, nestled back in a romantically lit corner that I dove into Bryson’s stories of the outback.   When the kind maitre’d finally wandered over and suggested I either put away the book or find another spot to read – that my hysterical outbursts were disturbing the romantic mood – I wiped away the laughing tears and took my book and my wine elsewhere. Bill Bryson was the funniest date I’d had in years; we’d simply take our hilarity and our business elsewhere.

Bill Bryson has been criticized for being more about Bryson than about the place, and perhaps there’s truth to that. But through his antics across Australia, I came to first know a country I’ve since fallen in love with. And one that my children and I now consider our adopted home.

Bryson’s work is not a family book, per se, particularly if some family members are not tall enough to ride the scariest rides at Disney.  But his masterful storytelling – and his ability to weave story and anecdotes of all flavors and experience – create rich vignettes suitable for most everyone in the family.  Bryson’s book was our constant companion as we traversed that exotic land over two months.  “Read us another story!” my kids would beg as we settled into our RV in some Outback campground.

One of our favorites, his experience sharing the desolate Outback roads with Australia’s ubiquitous “road-trains” quite possibly saved our lives.  Road Trains – multi-layered semi trucks easily measuring 150 feet long or more —  can’t really be explained, unless you’re Bill Bryson.

To meet a barreling road train coming at you at full throttle on a two-lane highway on which it desires all of its lane and some of yours is a reliably invigorating experience – an explosive whoomp as you hit its displaced air, followed at once by a consequent lurch onto the shoulder, several moments of hypermanic axle action sufficient to loosen dental fillings…., an enveloping shroud of gritty red dust…and savage thumps of flying rocks, some involuntary oral emissions on your part as the dust clears and you spy a large boulder dead ahead…”

Armed with this warning, we simply pulled to the side of the road at the mere sight of an oncoming train and gave him both lanes. Better safe than sorry, we figured. And we still held our breath until he passed and we could safely share the road.

Bryson takes his readers across the country, from well-known and well-traveled Sydney to the far-flung corners of Western Australia, the deep wilderness of the Northern Territory, and the remote saloon towns of the extreme rural and desolate Outback. He introduces the color and character of each swath of the country with the same care and attention Americans give to our diversity. New York is to Omaha what Melbourne is to Alice Springs. Bryson makes sure his readers know this, and have an abiding respect for the fabric that weaves such a diverse and colorful lot.

Australia remains our first recommendation when asked “Where should we start?”  It’s vast and exotic and fueled by adventure, yet the language is similar, the food recognizable, and the people delightful.  No doubt, we’d love Australia even if I’d never picked up the book, but we’re all the richer because we have “Uncle Bill” (as we like to call him) whispering in our ear every time we take the ferry from Sydney’s Circular Quay to Manley and mingle with commuting Sydneysiders.

These are people who get to live in a safe and fair-minded society, in a climate that makes your strong and handsome, in one of the world’s great cities – and they come to work on a boat from a children’s storybook, across a sublime plane of water, and each morning glance up from their Heralds and Telegraphs to see that famous Opera House and inspiring bridge and the laughing face of Luna Park. No wonder they look so damned happy.

In a Sunburned Country doesn’t just tell its readers stories about a place far, far away. It takes you there, instills the spirit of the country deep in your fiber, and sends you to your laptop to check airfare and Visa requirements STAT. (And perhaps to confirm just how deadly those creatures really are.)

 Note: Because A Traveler’s Library is an affiliate of Amazon, links here allow you to shop at Amazon. You should know that it costs you no more to follow these links, but we will be making a few cents to pay the rent. Thanks.