Wednesday, 4 December 2013

2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge Completed

After discovering the AWW Challenge only halfway through last year, I was excited to have a whole year to participate in the 2013 challenge. As this was one of three reading challenges I signed up for this year, I decided to set myself an attainable goal - read one book a month.

I also decided to read across a range of genres and I certainly enjoyed immersing myself in the wonderful worlds created by authors who were new to me. I've definitely discovered some authors I will be sticking with in the future.

I read YA paranormal, speculative, romantic suspense, romance, short stories, urban fantasy, literary, memoir, contemporary, historical, and humour. A great list!   

The twelve books I read for the 2013 AWW Challenge were ...

Shadows by Paula Weston

And All the Stars by Andrea K. Host

As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry

The Paler Shade of Autumn by Jacquie Underdown

Inherited by Amanda Curtin

Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur

A New Map of the Universe by Annabel Smith

In My Skin by Kate Holden

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Heaven I Swallowed by Rachel Hennessey

What Women Want by Nelly Thomas

Haze by Paula Weston

You can find my reviews here.

2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge Completed

I'm very grateful for Shelleyrae at Book'd Out and her Eclectic Reader Challenge because this year I have discovered a variety of new authors and genres that I otherwise would never have read. It's been a fun ride! :-) Some of the genres were not to my taste, but others have grabbed my attention enough to ensure I'll be returning to them again.

The twelve books I read for the challenge were...

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (translated fiction)

Slayer of Gods by Lynda S. Robinson (historical mystery)

As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry (romantic suspense)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (made into a movie)

The Edge of Never by J.A Redmerski (new adult)

Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur (urban fantasy)

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (dystopian)

In My Skin by Kate Holden (memoir)

Letters Never Sent by Sandra Moran (LGBT)

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott (action adventure)

What Women Want by Nelly Thomas (humour)

Haze by Paula Weston (published 2013)

You can read my reviews here.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Book Review: Haze by Paula Weston

Gaby Winters' nightmares have stopped but she still can't remember her old life. Still can't quite believe she is one of the Rephaim - the wingless half-angels who can shift from place to place, country to country, in the blink of an eye. That she was once the Rephaim's best fighter. That demons exist. That Rafa has stayed.

But most of all, she can't quite believe that her twin brother, Jude, might be alive.

And Gaby can't explain the hesitancy that sidetracks the search for him, infuriates Rafa, and sends them, again, into the darkest danger.

Haze is the second book in Paula Weston's 'Rephaim Series' and I have been eagerly awaiting its release all year. I bought the book when it came out in October, but held off reading it until this month so I could round out the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge with a book I was guaranteed to love. Also I thought it was quite fitting that I began and ended this year's challenge with the same author! :-) 

Reading Haze in December also allowed me to complete another of my 2013 challenges - the Eclectic Reader Challenge, which called for a novel 'published in 2013'. So a win-win :-) 

I devoured Haze in one day. I was up until 1am to finish it. It is that good! Weston is a pro when it comes to creating tension on the page. I couldn't get enough of Gaby and Rafa's blossoming romance alongside the rapid action of demon-slaying and Fallen Angel intrigue. I believe this is the secret to Weston's successful novels - they are the right amount of love and action. The heat between Gaby and Rafa certainly takes a back seat to the real story of the Angels, and yet it is still there lingering on every page. All this leads to a powerful cliffhanger that sent me straight onto Weston's website to find out when the third book - Shimmer - is released. Oh, if only I could read it now! I'm desperate to find out what happens next. Alas, I'll have to wait until mid 2014.

What I loved the most when I read Shadows back in January was Gaby's strength. It was great to read a female character who could hold her own amongst demons and yet remain relatable to we mere mortals. In Haze, more of Gaby's strengths and weaknesses are revealed and we slowly learn more about this fantastic character and the past she has forgotten. Weston writes Gaby so well that I feel I know her personally. Likewise with Rafa, who despite his many secrets, is a character that I feel very invested in. I can't wait to discover what will become of them both.

Haze picks up right where Shadows left off and follows Gaby as she deals with the fallout of the fights she had in the first book, and as she searches for her twin brother Jude. Mainly taking place in the great Aussie setting of Pan Beach, this sequel definitely creates more questions than it answers, but that's what I loved about it. And it's a brilliant strategy by Weston - get the reader hooked, but don't reveal too much. It's a sure-fire way of getting the reader to return to the series again and again. It worked for me - I'll be counting the days until I can read the next installment of this gripping series.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Book Review: What Women Want by Nelly Thomas

Growing up in post-feminist Australia, Nelly Thomas, one of Australia’s most gifted and natural comedians, was told she could ‘have it all’. She’s giving it a crack – but she still isn’t quite sure what ‘it’ is. What do women want?

In pursuit of answers, Thomas has tried being a telemarketer, a professional student, a fast-food worker, a broadcaster, a smoker, a prostitute’s confidant, a health advocate, a reality television obsessive, a mother, a partner (or is it girlfriend? lover?), an award-winning comedian, a sex-educator, a Loony Lefty Feminista and a self-confessed fatty boombah. Like many of her generation, she’s had a lot of options, yet she’s wondering – which do you choose?

In this hilarious part-memoir, part-manifesto, Thomas navigates the murky waters of her life and womanhood in the twenty-first century. She tackles the big contemporary issues – career, equality, family, porn, sex, entertainment, obesity, parenting, culture, class, Beyonce’s derriere – with customary insight and a wickedly dry wit. A must-read for the modern Aussie woman. 

I read What Women Want by Nelly Thomas as part of two reading challenges - the Australian Women Writers Challenge and the Eclectic Reader Challenge which called for a 'humour' book. And boy was this book overflowing with humour! I was laughing out loud the entire time.

I wasn't familiar with Nelly Thomas before picking up this book, but its safe to say she has a new fan. Right from the first paragraph of this memoir/manifesto I knew I'd be rolling with laughter while reading this book. And that's exactly what happened. Not only is Thomas a fabulous comedian, I found myself relating to her and her worldview a lot. There are some things we don't agree on, but overall I could see where she is coming from on all the big life issues.

Thomas discusses big themes in her book - parenting, feminism, sex, culture, politics, equality - and all are done with her own brand of wit. I enjoyed this book because it was about more than just the jokes. The book got me thinking about my own views on all these issues.

I like that Thomas works as a comedian in the health sector by giving sexual-health seminars to teenagers. She's making a difference...through comedy. That's a beautiful example of how we can all use our jobs to help others. It just goes to show that there is a place in this world for everyone's unique skills and that no matter how out of the ordinary your job may be, you can still use it to change the world.

One particular idea that runs throughout Thomas' book is that we should all just give each other a break. I wholeheartedly agree. In the modern first-world we're fortunate to have a variety of choices. Whichever choice we make with considered thought, in an effort to improve our lives and find joy, is the right choice for us. We need to stop judging others who make different choices. After all, the majority of people in this world are decent human beings just trying to make the most of the life they've been given. As long as we're not hurting others then the details don't really matter.

Wasting valuable energy, time and resources on nitpicking against the choices other people make is, to quote Nelly herself, "bullshit, mate". Far better to mind our own business and, to quote another inspirational comedian and woman - Ellen DeGeneres - "be kind to one another."

Nelly Thomas' memoir/manifesto is thought-provoking and absolutely hilarious. I can't recommend it highly enough. A brilliant read!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Book Review: The Heaven I Swallowed by Rachel Hennessy

In postwar Sydney, Grace Smith takes Mary, a young Aboriginal girl, into her home. She believes she will be able to save the child by giving her all the benefits of white society. But Mary's arrival has unexpected consequences as Grace's past comes back to haunt, and condemn her.

I read Rachel Hennessy's historical novel The Heaven I Swallowed as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Set in Sydney after the Second World War, this is Grace's story - a devout Catholic woman who sees it as her charitable duty to help Aboriginal girl Mary release the 'shackles' of her race. As it turns out, Grace and her community do more to shackle Mary than the white person's perception of a so-called 'savage' Aboriginal life ever could.

Grace is a complex character. I felt for her because of her own unhappy childhood, and I could easily see that she was nothing more than a product of her time. The Stolen Generations were taken from their homes under the misguided belief that it was the best thing for them. The way in which Grace refers to herself as saving Mary is a perfect illustration of what most white people must have felt at this time.

While this novel is part commentary on the Stolen Generations, it is more about Grace herself. I found this to be an interesting way of examining this sad time in Australian history. To tell the story from the perspective of the woman who 'adopted' the child, Hennessy was able to show the reader a different side to the events. Grace longs for a child to replace the one she miscarried. And as she is alone now her husband Fred hasn't returned from the war, she is also searching for purpose and a way to fill the void in her life. But there is more to Grace than simple lonliness. She also acts out of a desire to appear holy.

Grace craves affection and connection, but does not understand how to go about receiving them. Her dedication to the church and to God turns out to be a poor substitute for the love she really longs for. It's a sad story to read because Grace's desperate longing and rigid way of living is both devastating and infuriating all at once. I found myself liking Grace one moment and disliking her the next. Hennessy has created a flawed, yet relatable, character and for that very reason I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Heaven I Swallowed

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Book Review: The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott

Archaeologist Nina Wilde believes she has found the location of the lost city of Atlantis and now she wants the opportunity to prove her theory. Someone else though wants her dead!

With the help of ex-SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase and beautiful heiress Kari Frost, Nina faces a breakneck race against time around the world, pursued at every step by agents of the mysterious - and murderous - Brotherhood of Selasphoros. From the jungles of Brazil to the mountains of Tibet, from the streets of Manhattan to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, the hunt for Atlantis leads to a secret hidden for 11,000 years - which in the wrong hands could destroy civilization as we know it... 

For the Eclectic Reader Challenge I needed to read an action adventure novel. Having never read this genre before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Luckily I was pleasantly surprised. The book I chose - Andy McDermott's The Hunt for Atlantis - was a thoroughly good read.

I've always been fascinated by the myth of Atlantis so I was intrigued to read a novel that involved a quest to discover the resting place of that extraordinary civilization. The Hunt for Atlantis follows Dr Nina Wilde and her bodyguard Eddie Chase as they travel the world and fight the many enemies who threaten them at every turn. Reading this novel was like watching a Hollywood blockbuster. The plot flies along at a rapid pace and the action sequences are similar to those in any James Bond or Indiana Jones film. Being a huge movie fan myself I found this style very enjoyable to read.

McDermott writes straightforward prose - he is definitely not trying to be literary here. But it doesn't matter. The writing is perfect for the kind of adventure the characters find themselves on. McDermott excels when he is writing the action scenes - he makes it easy for the reader to imagine every fight, every crash, every explosion. And McDermott has obviously done his research when it comes to Atlantis because as far as I could tell all the archaeological and historical aspects of the novel seemed plausible.

Something that also gives the prose an edge is its humour. Not only are the characters themselves full of witty remarks (especially Eddie Chase), but McDermott has also written a story that doesn't take itself too seriously. The whole adventure is preposterous - just like all the far-fetched scenes in a film such as The Mummy for example - and yet this is what makes it such a fun read. McDermott knows, just as moviemakers do, that the best action occurs when the audience can suspend disbelief and just go along for the ride.

The story gripped me. I read this book in just a few days as I couldn't put it down. I was desperate to find out how Nina and Eddie would fare against their enemies. McDermott succeeded in grabbing my attention and I really was lost in the adventure. When it all came to an end I found myself wondering what I'd do next. Lucky for me this is only the first novel in a series. I might just have to move on to number two!

The Hunt for Atlantis is a fun novel to read. It is full of action, humour, danger and explosions. McDermott writes like a screenwriter so each action scene is visually spectacular. I enjoyed the crazy ride and I can recommend this book to anyone searching for a dose of escapism.  

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Book Review: Letters Never Sent by Sandra Moran

Three women, united by love and kinship, struggle to conform to the social norms of the times in which they lived.

In 1931, Katherine Henderson leaves behind her small town in Kansas and the marriage proposal of a local boy to live on her own and work at the Sears & Roebuck glove counter in Chicago. There she meets Annie—a bold, outspoken feminist who challenges Katherine’s idea of who she thinks she is and what she thinks she wants in life.

In 1997, Katherine’s daughter, Joan, travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her estranged mother’s house. Hidden away in an old suitcase, she finds a wooden box containing trinkets and a packet of sealed letters to a person identified only by a first initial.

Joan reads the unsent letters and discovers a woman completely different from the aloof and unyielding mother of her youth–a woman who had loved deeply and lost that love to circumstances beyond her control. Now she just has to find the strength to use the healing power of empathy and forgiveness to live the life she’s always wanted to live.

For the Eclectic Reader Challenge I needed to read a LGBT book. Letters Never Sent grabbed my attention because I was intrigued to see how the author Sandra Moran would tell the story of two women falling in love during the 1930s; a time when society certainly wasn't accepting of lesbian relationships.

Letters Never Sent is an engaging and thought-provoking book for that very reason - it focuses on the social attitudes of the day and the many prejudices women faced. Moran did a wonderful job at highlighting just how tough women had it when they chose to lead a life separate from the norm. I found the character of Annie particularly inspiring because she stands up for herself and doesn't apologise for who she is.

The novel is actually the story of three women - Katherine, Annie and Joan - and the choices they have made, for better or worse. I liked the idea that our decisions can affect the rest of our lives and even the lives of our children. I also liked how Moran created flawed yet lovable characters; people I could relate to as I read, even though I've never been forced to make the hard decisions that they all did.

Moran writes convincingly and the setting in 1930s Chicago is particularly well described. There are a few twists and turns in the novel that kept me entertained throughout. I did find the ending to be fairly predictable, but by that stage I was invested enough in the story that it didn't bother me too much.

Letters Never Sent is an emotional, romantic story that deals with important issues and powerful themes of loss and injustice. It was very moving to read a book that reminded me just how far women have come in our fight for equality and freedom. I enjoyed reading this touching novel.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Book Review: The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in her husband's hand, it says: to be opened only in the event of my death.
Curious, she opens it - and time stops.
John-Paul's letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, if revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others.
Cecilia - betrayed, angry and distraught - wants to do the right thing, but right for who? If she protects her family by staying silent, the truth will worm through her heart. But if she reveals her husband's secret, she will hurt those she loves most . . .

I discovered Liane Moriarty during last year's AWW Challenge and fell in love with her writing. So I was excited to see she had a new book out this year - The Husband's Secret - which I've just read for AWW2013

The Husband's Secret is a book about the things we hide and the consequences of our actions. Set on Sydney's North Shore, the story follows three main characters - Cecilia, Tess and Rachel - as they negotiate the trials and joys of family life. Bound together by life in their community, what these women don't know is that a secret threatens everything they've built their lives upon.

I was captivated by this story from the first page and I read the book very quickly. Moriarty succeeds in creating a strong narrative that is funny in part, even though we know something sinister is lurking just around the corner. Straightaway I got a sense of the tight-knit community these characters reside in and this only made the secret, when it is revealed, all the more shocking.

Unfortunately I'd worked out what the secret was long before Cecilia opened the letter, but that didn't make it any less shocking. It still made me wonder how this family would survive the revelation. Moriarty creates a fairly believable scenario that has Cecilia questioning her morals and I found this intriguing to read.

I liked all the characters in the novel and fans of Moriarty's family-orientated stories will enjoy reading about how secrets have the ability to bring even the most solid relationships to breaking point. Even though the novel is an easy 'summer read', it does feature complex themes of loss and betrayal.

I didn't agree with all the characters' actions and I felt that forgiveness came a little too easy to John-Paul. The novel does raise the question of whether or not one bad act should cancel out the rest of a life well spent. I believe it depends on the severity of the act, and in this case I felt more punishment was necessary. Having said that, I can see why Moriarty chose the route she did.

Moriarty is great at throwing normal families into abnormal situations and seeing how they react. Her stories make me question how I might respond if I was in the same predicament, and any novel that gets me thinking about the complexities of life, family and relationships is a success in my eyes. The Husband's Secret is an enjoyable and satisfying read.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Book Review: In My Skin by Kate Holden

'Kate Holden is accustomed to being summed up at a glance: arts graduate, history buff, middle-class daughter, dreamer, innocent. But she is a young woman who understands better than most the secrets that people keep hidden. In My Skin follows her journey from her reputation as a 'good girl' in the safe and leafy suburbs of Melbourne to the all-consuming attractions of heroin and the sex industry. 

This is a story of survival and resourcefulness; an unflinching look at the consequences of addiction. Holden's journey leads her from a sheltered life in her loving family home to a world of sex for money - a seedy netherworld of back lanes, backseats and brothels. More than just a fearless and compelling narrative, In My Skin is a triumphant announcement of a major new literary talent.'

I read Kate Holden's In My Skin as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and the Eclectic Reader Challenge which called for a 'memoir'. As the book's blurb says - this memoir shows off a new talent; I was blown away by Holden's phenomenal writing. I was pleasantly surprised to see such beautiful prose in a shocking story of heroin addiction and prostitution. It is obvious that even with all the hard times Holden has been through, her creative talent has found its way up out of the mess. She is a wonderful writer.

Holden was a normal Aussie girl, slightly shy, an avid reader who loved to write in her journal. That much I could easily relate to! In the first pages of the book I felt I was reading about my own childhood. But soon Holden's life would follow a path that mine didn't, and yet I never once lost my connection to Holden as a person. Throughout her story I could understand her motivations, even when she was making some questionable choices. I could see the artist in her.

Holden's story reads in part like a typical sink into drug addiction. She starting out trying heroin for the fun of it, but the drug soon took hold. Holden began to lose herself in her crippling addiction. What sets this story apart is its eloquent writing - Holden brings a writer's eye to her life which offers a different perspective on drug addiction and prostitution. Holden is able to see the beauty in the darkness that is her life, and this is portrayed on every page of her memoir. Even though her story is sad at times, it is still very touching to read.

Holden is open about her lack of confidence, so it wasn't too unbelievable that such a promising young woman would fall into drugs and prostitution. But what I wasn't prepared for was just how much the sex industry would actually save her. It was in the brothels of Melbourne that Holden found a sense of belonging, a belief in herself and the self-esteem she so craved.  

What I love best about Holden is her complete acceptance of her unconventional past. She doesn't hold shame about her life as a junkie or prostitute. I like her frankness and her ability to open herself up and tell the truth of who she is and what she's done. In My Skin is one of the best memoirs I've ever read and I was inspired by Holden - she managed to survive the downward spiral she was on and emerge from her shady experiences with her creative ability and self-acceptance intact. Despite the 'negative' subject matter this memoir is a story of empowerment. And it's beautifully written! A must read. 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Book Review: A New Map of the Universe by Annabel Smith

Grace dreams of designing a house for her lover, Michael, a place where they can begin their life together. But before she can step into her future with Michael, Grace must journey into the past to confront its crippling legacy of silence and secrets.

This lyrical, engaging novel spans two generations and both hemispheres as Grace navigates her new map of the universe. It is a story about grief and passion, architecture and astronomy, but above all it is a story about finding yourself.

I read Annabel's Smith literary novel A New Map of the Universe as part of the AWW2013 Challenge. I came across a review of this book from last year's AWW Challenge and it sounded like a beautiful piece of writing. I decided to check it out for myself.

This novel is literary fiction at its finest. The story is entirely character-driven; the heart of the narrative is the emotions of each of the main characters - Grace, Peter and Madeleine. But that doesn't mean there is no plot. Quite the contrary - a lot happens as this story spans two generations and two countries. Smith writes with brevity and lyricalism to highlight the major events that advance the plot forwards, while never losing touch with the most important element - the characters.

A New Map of the Universe follows Grace as she attempts to understand her life and the people who have influenced her - namely her parents Peter and Madeleine. Like the blurb says, it is a story of grief and passion. There is a lot of loss, sadness and regret in the story and for that reason it was very emotional to read. But there is also a lot of love, hope and awakening for the characters.

The novel is broken up into four parts - two from Grace's point of view, and one each from her parents'. I liked this as it enabled me to see deeply into Grace's family history, to see how lives can be forever changed by the things that are left unsaid. It reminded me that we are all a product of our personal family history, of the way our parents were treated by their parents and by the heartaches that hurt those we're close to.

A New Map of the Universe is a touching story about family legacy and the long-ago secrets that threaten to hold us back. Told in sensual language, the narrative explores the depth of human relationships and the impact grief can have on generations. It's a beautiful novel.  

Monday, 15 July 2013

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

For the Eclectic Reader challenge I needed to read a dystopian novel. I chose Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go because I heard about its science fiction element and was intrigued to see how its dystopian world would be created on the page. 

Never Let Me Go follows the lives of three children - Kathy, Tommy and Ruth - as they grow together at an English boarding school and then on into adulthood. They do not live normal lives, however, as a terrible fate awaits them. The book is narrated by Kathy and slowly reveals the sci-fi element that shadows, influences, and ultimately destroys these young people.

The book is one long run-on memory. Kathy looks back over her life and the events that have stayed with her, the ones that influenced who she turned out to be, the moments that saw her shift from a child to a teenager to an adult. It's a book full of Kathy's inner life; it's her reminiscing and coming to realisations that she missed the first time around because she wasn't mature enough or knowledgable enough to see things clearly when they happened. We meet the rest of the characters only through Kathy's memory. Tommy is thoughtful and kind, but I did not like Ruth at all. She is manipulative and it infuriated me that Kathy herself seemed to hardly notice Ruth's true nature.

I found reading this book hard going, and not just because of the dystopian subject matter. The book is written in a strange style - it's an entire narrative of introspection. It does get a bit repetitive at times as Kathy is constantly trying to make sense of everything that happened to her and she often goes back over events in far too much detail. Ishiguro does succeed in portraying the oppressed and restricted life of Kathy, but I wasn't a big fan of his style of writing.

The sci-fi element of the book was quite subtle, even though it was always hanging around in the background. It soon becomes obvious that Kathy and her friends are little more than lab rats, but I never really came to understand the gritty details of how this process works. Ishiguro's narrative is so focussed on Kathy's thoughts and her perspective on the actions of herself and others, that the science behind their lives takes a backseat.

The book's blurb mentions a love triangle which does occur, but the book is actually about a lot more than that. It's about human rights. It asks the question - if your life is predestined should you be allowed to live a normal life up until your destiny is fulfilled? Never Let Me Go is a complex story with a harsh theme on the fragility of life and the power that others can hold over us. It's also a tragic story of lost opportunities. All in all, a very sad book indeed.

Friday, 12 July 2013

100 Questions for my 100th blog post

To celebrate my 100th blog post here on Healing Scribe, I wanted to do something different and special. I wanted to share some more of who I am and my truth, so I've trawled the internet to find 100 interesting questions to ask myself. Answering the questions has been enlightening for me. :-)

So here's 100 random things about me...

1. Favourite word? Love
2. Favourite drink on a hot summer's day? Pimms
3. Favourite drink on a cold winter's night? Tea
4. Favourite movie of all time? Dirty Dancing
5. Favourite book? The Time Traveler's Wife
6. Favourite colour? Purple
7. Favourite artist? Jackson Pollock
8. Favourite song? 'Let Go' by Frou Frou 
9. Favourite pastime? Reading
10. Favourite birthday, and why? My 28th in 2010, the day my husband proposed

11. Favourite natural landscape? Rainforests
12. Favourite flower? Tulip
13. Favourite paid employment ever? Proofreading a manuscript for a small publishing house
14. Favourite dessert? Chocolate brownie
15. Favourite household chore? Washing
16. Favourite shiny object I own? My engagement ring
17. Favourite perfume? White Musk from The Body Shop
18. Favourite dinner my mum made?  Roast Chicken
19. Favourite item of clothing? Polka dot dress
20. Most treasured book in my collection? My signed copy of Eat, Pray, Love

21. One item I would take to desert island? My hubby :-)
22. Best sporting event ever attended? ATP World Tour Finals 2012 - Federer vs Murray
23. Favourite ice cream? Ben & Jerry's Half Baked
24. Favourite environmental sound? Thunder
25. Musician I admire? Adele
26. Favourite famous person who I admire, living or dead, who I'd like to meet? Oprah
27. Best time I've had playing with a pet? Making our dog jump over a line of cushions
28. Favourite board game? Scattergories
29. Favourite TV re-run I could watch 50 times? Any 'Friends' episode
30. Experience of the supernatural? Feeling the presence of an angel while giving a Reiki treatment

31. Nicest thing I've ever done for a little kid? Teaching a girl how to write her name
32. Was I named after anyone? No
33. When was the last time I cried? Today, watching a movie
34. Do I like my handwriting? Yes
35. Do I use sarcasm a lot? Yes
36. Would I bungee jump? Never!
37. Mountain hideaway or beach house? Beach house
38. Summer or winter? Summer
39. If I was a fruit what kind would I be? Blueberry
40. If I could time travel what time would I go to? Ancient Egypt to watch the Pyramids being built

41. If I won the lottery what would I buy? A house
42. If I could have any five people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be? Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Roger Federer, Oprah, Robert Downey Jr.
43. Earliest memory? First day of pre-school
44. What would my superpower be? Time travel
45. Favourite animal? Horse
46. Do I believe in reincarnation? Definitely
47. If I got a tattoo where would it be? Foot
48. Favourite beer? Corona
50. Favourite day of the week? Saturday

51. Favourite number? 3
52. Favourite comedian? Ellen
53. Favourite childhood book? The Big Honey Hunt
54. Favourite outdoor activity? Walking
55. What sound do I love? Laughter
56. If I had to change my first name what would I change it to? Lily
57. If I could be any fictional character who would it be? Harry Potter
58. What did I do growing up that got me into trouble? Slamming doors during a tantrum
59. What do I do if I can't sleep at night? Toss and turn
60. What is the strangest thing I believed as a child? The world was once black and white (I got this idea from seeing old B&W TV shows/movies)

61. Which animal scares me most? Spider
62. Where's my favourite place to take out-of-town guests? South Bank, London
63. When do I find myself singing? All the time; I love to sing!
64. Dog or cat? Dog
65. Coke or Pepsi? Coke
66. Batman or Superman? Iron Man ;-)
67. Pancakes or waffles? Pancakes
68. Santa Claus or The Easter Bunny? Easter Bunny brings chocolate! :-)
69. Do I believe in life on other planets? Yes
70. 3 of my best personality traits? Compassionate, loving, helpful

71. Celebrity crush? Robert Downey Jr
72. What would be my last meal of choice? Chicken Burger
73. Favourite memory from teenage years? First kiss
74. If my shoes did the talking what would they say about me? This woman likes to sit down a lot ;-)
75. Sports I played in high school? Tennis and Netball
76. What is my pet peeve? Singers who mime
77. If I could meet anyone in the world who would I meet? Ellen DeGeneres
78. If I could be famous for one thing what would it be? Something I'd written
79. Where have I visited that I'd like to go back to? Cat Island, Bahamas
80. Do I believe in God? Yes - universal energy, not a man in the sky

81. Favourite movie quote? "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads"
82. Do I remember my dreams? Sometimes
83. Have I ever won a trophy? Yes, 'most improved' tennis trophy
84. What's under my bed? Boxes
85. How far away from my birthplace do I live right now? The other side of the world!
86. Can I touch my nose with my tongue? Yes
87. How many rings before I answer the phone? Two or three
88. Do I like my name? Yes I love it
89. What do I do when driving alone in a car? Sing!
90. The one cause I feel strongly about? Equality

91. Do I play an instrument? I can play the piano, but haven't done so in years
92. An activity I think is really romantic? My hubby pulling me to him for a kiss
93. Would I like to build or design my own home? Yes
94. Favourite swear word? F**k
95. Blue or black inked pens? Black
96. Is the grass greener on the other side? Usually not
97. If I could have three wishes what would they be? Inner peace for me, world peace, and equality for all
98. If I could ask my future self one question what would it be? Will I have kids?
99. If I had one hour to live how would I spend it? Hugging my loved ones
100. What inspires me? Love

Friday, 14 June 2013

Book Review: Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur

A rare hybrid of vampire and werewolf, Riley Jenson and her twin brother, Rhoan, work for Melbourne's Directorate of Other Races, an organisation created to police the supernatural races - and protect humans from their depredations. While Rhoan is an exalted guardian, aka assassin, Riley is merely an office worker - until her brother goes missing on one of his missions. The timing couldn't be worse. More werewolf than vampire, Riley is vulnerable to the moon heat, the weeklong period before the full moon, when her need to mate becomes all-consuming...

Luckily Riley has two willing partners to satisfy her every need. But she will have to control her urges if she's going to find her brother. For someone is doing some illegal cloning in an attempt to produce the ultimate warrior - by tapping into the genome of nonhumans like Rhoan. Now Riley knows just how dangerous the world is for her kind - and just how much it needs her.

For my Eclectic Reader challenge I needed to read an Urban Fantasy novel. Being new to this genre I wasn't sure which book to choose out of the vast number available, so I narrowed down my search to novels written by Australian women - that way I could satisfy my AWW2013 challenge at the same time. :-) That's when I came across Keri Arthur.

Arthur is an award-winning urban fantasy novelist and her Riley Jenson Series (of which Full Moon Rising is the first book) is widely popular. Starting the novel I could see why Arthur has a huge following - she is a great writer and the character of Riley is a strong and confident half-werewolf half-vampire who literally kicks some serious butt in the opening chapter. I liked how Arthur introduced her fantasy world and I enjoyed imagining Melbourne with the 'non-human' werewolves and vampires living amongst the regular humans. I was excited to see what adventures Riley would get up to as she searched for her missing twin brother Rhoan.

Unfortunately, after a promising beginning this novel went off on a path I wasn't expecting. Admittedly the book's description does talk about Riley's 'all-consuming moon fever', but I didn't expect erotica. I thought I was reading a fantasy novel based in an urban setting (one that might include a little sex) but not a steamy paranormal romance. I also have no experience reading paranormal romances, but I can easily spot the genre-defining clues when Riley starts to have sex three times a day! To me that's not really urban fantasy. Maybe I'm wrong, but regardless - I didn't get the book I was expecting when I chose it.

Riley is part werewolf so she is heavily influenced by the 'moon heat'. For a week leading up to the full moon all werewolves come under the fever that causes them to require an unlimited amount of sex. While I'm happy for Riley to have a couple of sexy partners who give her hours of pleasure, I couldn't help getting annoyed at the way Arthur uses this plot device to write scene after scene of sex marathons. It seemed ridiculous that Riley would be off having sex while her brother is missing!

I enjoy reading well-written sex scenes and while Arthur did a great job at developing Riley's intense feelings of desire, once the initial sex was over I thought it might feature once or twice more throughout the novel. But no. This was like reading Fifty Shades of Grey with werewolves! It became quite repetitive. Yes there is some suspense and a mystery of sorts to unravel in this novel, but with Arthur's narrative focussing so much on the 'burning fever' it was easy to forget about that side of things altogether. I found the suspense part of the plot lacked excitement and intrigue because Riley is so preoccupied with her moon heat, of which she seems to have no control over (it even gets her in to some morally questionable encounters that are too-easily glossed over when they are in fact quite serious topics). 

I don't deny Arthur's ability to create a complex fantasy world; she is a good writer. It's a well-paced and engaging narrative and I had no problem finishing the book. Fans of erotic paranormal romances will love this novel, but for me Full Moon Rising was not the urban adventure I was hoping for. I've realised that steamy paranormal romances aren't really my thing (I like to read erotica that is more realistic!), so I won't be reading any more of the Riley Jenson Series. 

Friday, 31 May 2013

Book Review: Inherited by Amanda Curtin

A dancer in a wheelchair. A collector of corks. One woman seduced by a mountain and another by Freddo Frogs. A man who hears his dead wife's voice. A poet whose voice has disappeared. A photographer distilling grief in his lens. A sound designer stealing the sound of a room. 

Written by Amanda Curtin, these are stories concerned with the gifts and burdens we inherit from those we love and from the world at large, and what we, in turn, leave behind. Families, relationships, memory, secrets, memorialization, creativity, collecting, ageing, and obsession all weave themselves through these 19 short fictional gems.

I read Amanda Curtin's short story collection Inherited as part of the AWW2013 Challenge. Curtin is a remarkable writer and each story is infused with a deep sense of loss and melancholy. For that reason it was a hard book for me to read. The writing is excellent and the stories are engaging, but the heavy subject matter sometimes proved too exhausting for me. That's not altogether a bad thing of course; Curtin has gotten to the heart of her characters' stories and made me feel things. That's a successful piece of writing.

The collection is broken up into seven sections - keeping, wanting, surviving, remembering, breaking, leaving and returning. These sections provide a theme for the stories and gave me a deeper understanding of what Curtin was trying to say. There are memorable characters and quirky situations and each story has hidden meaning if the reader wants to dig a little deeper. The stories are about what matters most in life, of what we leave behind when we die, of the longing that can ruin us, of regrets and desires and choices, and questions that may never get answered. The stories are haunting and full of sad memories. And yet they are still beautiful.

I don't usually read short story collections because I find the snippets of self-contained prose do not hold my attention in the way a novel does. While Curtin's writing is certainly superb here, I wasn't as invested in each of the characters like I would be over the course of reading a novel. But that is to be expected when the reader is given a short burst of a character, a short moment of feeling and emotion before the story ends and an entirely new scenario follows on the next page.

Of course the beauty of the short story is that they require brevity, so this collection is perfect for time-starved readers. Inherited proves Curtin is a short story master and I definitely enjoyed reading her collection. But I was reminded that short stories just don't give me enough time and connection with the essential elements of character, setting, theme etc. Like many of Curtin's characters I was left wanting more, which in hindsight I see was probably Curtin's intention all along! That's the work of an exceptionally gifted writer.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Z is for Zest

It's week twenty-six of Alphabe-Thursday!

Z is for Zest...

Zest is all about enjoyment. It's the excitement we feel for any one particular thing. Or for life itself.

Sometimes, when things don't go my way, I can get lost in a sea of hopelessness. I find my enthusiasm is gone and my energy is depleted. I'm sure everyone can relate to that feeling.

But then I hear a piece of inspiring music, or something makes me laugh, or the sun comes shining out from behind the clouds, or someone gives me a hug and tells me they love me...and just like that I am reminded of something precious - this life, even with its hardships, is magnificent

My zest for life returns.

We may never find that elusive balance or inner peace we all seek. Life will test us over and over again. But within that reality is a deeper, more remarkable truth - we're all miracles. Life is a miracle. Our ability to breathe and laugh and cry and experience is a gift all its own.

Even if you believe in reincarnation this life you are living now is the one life you have as you. There is nothing else. So do whatever it takes to find your enthusiasm for life. Do those things that make you smile and laugh and cry with joy. Find your zest for life and hold on to it. Let it carry you through the hard times. Take a deep breath and remember - you are alive.

** As this is the last of my 'Alphabe-Thursday' posts, I wanted to say thank you to all who read and commented on these posts. Blessings to you.

I finish with a simple yet profound quote that always makes me feel great about life; it reminds me of why I'm here and calms me down when I get carried away looking for answers to life's most puzzling questions...

"The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences"
~ Eleanor Roosevelt ~

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Book Review: The Edge of Never by J.A Redmerski

Twenty-year-old Camryn Bennett had always been one to think out-of-the-box, who knew she wanted something more in life than following the same repetitive patterns and growing old with the same repetitive life story. And she thought that her life was going in the right direction until everything fell apart.

Determined not to dwell on the negative and push forward, Camryn is set to move in with her best friend and plans to start a new job. But after an unexpected night at the hottest club in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, she makes the ultimate decision to leave the only life she's ever known, far behind.

With a purse, a cell phone and a small bag with a few necessities, Camryn, with absolutely no direction or purpose boards a Greyhound bus alone and sets out to find herself. What she finds is a guy named Andrew Parrish, someone not so very different from her and who harbors his own dark secrets. But Camryn swore never to let down her walls again. And she vowed never to fall in love.

But with Andrew, Camryn finds herself doing a lot of things she never thought she'd do. He shows her what it's really like to live out-of-the-box and to give in to her deepest, darkest desires. On their sporadic road-trip he becomes the center of her exciting and daring new life, pulling love and lust and emotion out of her in ways she never imagined possible. But will Andrew's dark secret push them inseparably together, or tear them completely apart?

For my Eclectic Reader Challenge I needed to read a New Adult novel. I'd heard about The Edge of Never because it is a self-publishing success story. The novel became a New York Times bestseller and was subsequently picked up by major publishing houses. I was intrigued and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

This is a hard review to write. I didn't hate the novel - in fact I read it quite quickly because it hooked me in - but it did drive me crazy. Right from the beginning I found Redmerski's every-little-detail descriptions a big distraction. I would have preferred if Redmerski had let the dialogue speak for itself and allowed my imagination to fill in the details.

The Edge of Never is a romance novel first and foremost. Camryn is a young girl searching for herself when she meets older Andrew, the quintessential sexy man who will show her what she's been missing in life, and in sex. There is nothing too serious here plotwise. The entire book reads like a type of young woman's fantasy - girl meets sexy guy on a bus who then takes her on an adventurous road trip where he pays for everything and awakens her secret sexual desires. There is a hint of Fifty Shades of Grey here, although The Edge of Never is more romance than erotica.

Funnily enough, the things that annoyed me in Fifty Shades were the same things that annoyed me in The Edge of Never. I don't mind reading about a submissive female who wants to be dominated in bed, but when that submissive nature carries over into everyday life it starts to bother me. Why must the female character be the one to give in to her partner all the time? Why couldn't she be strong and confident? I liked Camryn at the start of the novel - she is a dreamer who longs to live an unconventional life - but by the end I'd had enough of her. In my opinion she did the typical thing that a lot of young women do; she allowed herself to be influenced by her man. I suppose in a way that is often what happens when a woman is a 'new adult' who is unsure of herself, so that might explain why the novel has been so popular amongst its target audience; young women can relate to this kind of misplaced dependence.

That being said, I was able to let go and float along with the fantasy. I was enjoying reading the novel (even though I was rolling my eyes at its clichéd plot). That was until the ending. The last couple of chapters were a big let down. I felt Redmerski ran out of steam and just wanted to get the story over and done with quickly. There was a twist involving Andrew that was rushed and unrealistic. And the epilogue - well let's just say it sort of undid all the time Redmerski had put in portraying both Camryn and Andrew's desire to live outside the box. 

As an author myself I know the amount of effort required to complete a novel so I always have the greatest respect for any writer who manages to do so. Redmerski wrote her novel and is living the self-publisher's dream - her story has appealed to a wide audience and become a bestseller. I congratulate her on that success. I can see why people love The Edge of Never, why young women adore this kind of escapism. I liked it for that reason too. But for me the novel didn't really live up to all the hype.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Y is for Yoga

It's week twenty-five of Alphabe-Thursday!

Y is for Yoga...

"A mind free from all disturbances is Yoga" ~ The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali ~

Yoga is a Hindu concept best defined as a journey of self-awareness and self-discovery. The Western world has associated 'yoga' with physical exercises alone, but in Hindu tradition yoga involved physical, mental and spiritual disciplines. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit and means 'to join' or 'to unite'. Yoga is actually a philosophy about self-realization that leads to connection to spiritual consciousness.

Yoga is union with the divine.

The harmonious balancing of our body and mind, found through doing Hatha Yoga exercises, is like a stepping stone on our journey to enlightenment. Yoga, breathing and meditative exercises can invoke the sacred divine part in each of us. Yoga postures can improve our physical health which in turn brings clarity to our minds. From this place of awakened potential we can then connect to our deeper spiritual essence.

Yoga as physical exercise alone is very beneficial, but I will always consider yoga to be a spiritual practice. Yoga's spiritual traditions intrigue me much more than its physical postures.

One yogic idea that really speaks to me is that of the kundalini energy, the coiled life-force energy, that resides at the base of our spines and rises up through our chakras. When this energy arises out through the crown chakra our individual consciousness is able to merge with universal consciousness. This is the very act of divine union.

"Kundalini Yoga, at its highest form, is practiced for the purpose of attaining bliss, opening the heart center, developing power, serving others, attaining self-realization and ultimately merging into God consciousness" ~ Swami Sivananda ~ 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

X is for XIII

It's week twenty-four of Alphabe-Thursday!

X is for XIII...

Coming up with a spiritual word beginning with X was proving difficult until I decided to use Roman numerals. I chose the number thirteen because we're in the year 2013. :-) Then I discovered that thirteen is actually a very powerful number.

In symbolic numerology thirteen is often given a dark interpretation. For example, Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day because The Last Supper was held on a friday the thirteenth. But looked at from a different perspective, the number thirteen can actually be seen as a very positive number.

Jesus had his last meal with the twelve apostles, making him the thirteenth member of the group. So thirteen in this case is the number given to an enlightened being. Likewise, in Ancient Greece Zeus was known as the thirteenth god. Symbolically, this makes thirteen a powerfully spiritual number.

In Ancient Egypt there were thirteen steps on the ladder to eternity; it was on the thirteenth step that the soul reaches its source and attains spiritual completion. The Aztecs held thirteen to be a sacred number so they had thirteen days in a week. And Native Americans honour the number thirteen in their ritualistic practices. 

There are thirteen moons in a year. The moon takes thirteen days to change from Full Moon to New Moon and thirteen days back again.The moon also moves thirteen degrees around the Earth in one day. So it seems thirteen is a significant number for the moon! Symbolically, that means the number thirteen holds the traits associated with the moon - femininity, emotion, cycles and mystery.

Numerologically speaking, thirteen contains the symbolic meaning of both 1 and 3. One deals with beginnings, unity and birth. While three is a powerful number that deals with creation and completion. For numerologists then - thirteen is considered to highlight a spiritual path that will bring unity and completion of the soul's journey. On Tarot cards thirteen is given to the death card which is actually symbolic of transition.

Looking at all of this I would say thirteen is a sacred spiritual number. So make the most of your 2013! :-)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

W is for Wellness

It's week twenty-three of Alphabe-Thursday!

W is for Wellness...

Wellness is the balancing of mind, body and spirit. Our overall health and happiness comes from the merging of these three essential parts of us. By choosing a balanced existence we can ensure a more joyful life. If we ignore one or more part, it means we're 'running on empty'. That's usually when illness arrives.

The one part most often ignored is the spirit. Our body and mind are tangible - we live with them every single day. We all know our body needs food and water to survive. We're told from a young age to care for our bodies through healthy eating and exercise. We know that to prolong our lives we must look after our bodies first and foremost.

Likewise, the mind is something we interact with from day one. We might not be able to touch our mind, but we're certainly aware of our thoughts; they never leave us! We feed our mind by learning new skills or reading books. It is our mental intelligence, our sense of reasoning and our accumulation of memories that provides us with a foundation to build our lives upon. 

For a lot of people the body and mind are enough. They learn everything they need to know to survive and they make sure their body keeps them alive for as long as possible.

But for some of us, we need a little more. To feel completely well we also need to nourish our spirits. How we go about this, of course, depends on our individual understanding of 'spirit'. For me, my spirit is my soul - the immortal essence of me. To nourish my soul I meditate, chant mantras, use affirmations and connect to Reiki energy. I continually seek deeper spiritual growth through experience of the mysteries of life. Giving time to my soul, just like the time I devote to keeping my body healthy and my mind active, is essential to my well-being.

“Body and mind, and spirit, all combine,
To make the Creature, human and divine.”
~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox ~

How do you promote wellness in your life?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

V is for Values

It's week twenty-two of Alphabe-Thursday!

V is for Values...

I once came across an exercise that asked me to list my core values, and as I'm dedicated to really knowing myself, I quickly set about creating my list. It proved to be a wonderful experience for me because I learnt so much about my priorities in life.

Values are like the guideposts of our lives. Once we know what we value above all else we are able to make decisions and create the life that feels right for us. Knowing my values gave me a clarity I'd never had before - from my list I was able to acknowledge what drives me and why I am who I am. It was fascinating!

Making a core values list can set us on our true path. It can bring us powerful insights and the motivation to go out there and achieve our goals. Knowing what matters most to us means we can make the best of the lives we're living and use our time productively. We can choose careers, relationships, lifestyles etc that fit in with our priorities.

Exercises like the one I discovered ask us to make a long list of any value that speaks to us. Then we need to narrow the list down to those values that mean the most. This can be a time-consuming exercise, but it's very rewarding. When we put our values in order we can instantly see a blueprint of our personality traits and our desires in life. For example - someone who values success the most might be career-driven, while someone who put intimacy at the top might give most of their attention to their relationships with others.

I managed to narrow my own list to ten top values. They are -

Making a difference
Personal Development
Inner Harmony

Whenever I feel lost or unsure of myself, I bring my values to mind so I can make sure I'm living from a place of love and joy first and foremost. I make sure my values are being met through my work, my relationships, and my life in general. If one of my values no longer fits me then I can consciously change it for another. My values allow me to always live from my truth.

What are your values?

Thursday, 11 April 2013

U is for Unique

It's week twenty-one of Alphabe-Thursday!

U is for Unique...

I recently discovered this wonderful quote -

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken" ~ Oscar Wilde ~

I instantly fell in love with that! I think it will become one of my mottos. I sometimes fall into the trap of comparing myself to others or trying to be someone I'm expected to be rather than who I am. But the truth is we are all unique. We each view the world from our own perspective and we all have our own special talents and skills. We do not need to be anyone, or anything, other than who we are.

There is a lot of pressure on us in this modern society. We are inundated with media images that show us the so-called 'right' way to live our lives. We're expected to constantly better ourselves by searching for more and continually changing our life in the pursuit of unlimited achievement. We're not expected to be happy with our lot, to want to slow things down and focus on what we already have. 

There is so much hatred in the world for people who are different. People who walk to the beat of their own drum. People who don't fit into the mould of who we as human beings are 'supposed' to be. But if we were all the same, with the exact same thoughts and feelings and reactions and experiences, we would be nothing more than machines. We'd be a race of human robots!

Our uniqueness is what makes us beautiful. We are all made of the same stuff, the same life, the same energy, and yet it is our specialness that makes us come alive. We are like snowflakes - they're all made of frozen water, but each flake has its own design, its own unique molecular structure.

I've experienced firsthand that trying to be someone other than who I am is a complete waste of energy. It causes sorrow and confusion. But most of all it disconnects me from my heart and from my truth. When I remind myself that my life is a blessing and that I am fine just as I am, the world becomes a much brighter place to be. 

Be yourself. Be who you are. Be your perfections and your imperfections. Embrace your gifts and accept your flaws. You are unique. And that's what makes you magnificent. There is no one on the planet like you. So be yourself. Be the star of your own life. And allow others the space to do the same.

Book Review: The Paler Shade of Autumn by Jacquie Underdown

'Autumn Leone travels to India to find answers about her unique ability to see into other’s minds. But instead of answers she finds love. It takes one night of passion to fall for Jet Stark, whom fate had sent her half way around the world to meet. But, too soon, Autumn is to fly back to Australia and out of his life.

When Autumn bumps into Jet back in Australia after five long years apart, it’s difficult to dispute fate’s intention in crossing their paths not only once, but twice. Autumn knows it is a risk to fall for an old fling, especially because Jet now happens to be rich, her new boss, and involved with another woman.

But a connection like theirs proves impossible to sever...'

I read Jacquie Underdown's romance novel The Paler Shade of Autumn as part of the AWW2013 Challenge. Jacquie and I connected online because we have similiar interests in spiritual matters, and Jacquie thought I might like her novel as it deals with the spiritual life so she offered me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Jacquie was right - I did like her novel! The Paler Shade of Autumn is a romance first and foremost, but in the story Autumn and Jet's spiritual beliefs are just as important as their all-consuming love. This was refreshing to me because I haven't read any other romance novels that deal with the spiritual life. I enjoyed the combination of a typical romance-genre relationship with the deeper there-is-more-to-life-than-just-the-material-world outlook of the main characters.

This novel's message of humanity's need for compassion, connection and togetherness will resonate with those travellers and seekers amongst us who have explored the world and come home forever changed by the experience. Autumn and Jet both share a desire to help others. They meet in India where Jet works in an orphanage and it is his compassion and sensitivity that attracts Autumn to him. He is the quintessential man - a handsome, down-to-earth, tanned Aussie who wants to change the world. No wonder Autumn falls for him! But it's not just about lust for these two. There is a connection that runs deeper than anything they've experienced before - a connection that comes from the soul.

I loved the spiritual elements in this novel. It was a unique way to build a relationship between the main characters. Autumn's gift to see into people's minds might seem supernatural to some readers, but to me it made perfect sense. I am a believer in the soul and its power to transcend the physical world we inhabit on a daily basis. I am a strong believer in our spiritual essence, the synchronistic nature of life, and how destiny plays a part in our lives, so reading a story that includes these ideas was really wonderful.

That's not to say that this book will only appeal to readers who are interested in spirituality. The Paler Shade of Autumn is a romance at its heart and will definitely tick all the boxes for those readers who enjoy the romance genre. There is passion and lust, a blossoming relationship, and obstacles to overcome, so romance-lovers will feel right at home reading this novel. 


Thursday, 4 April 2013

T is for Touch

It's week twenty of Alphabe-Thursday!

T is for Touch...

Touch is vital for our wellbeing because it helps us to feel cared for and cherished. When someone reaches out to hug you it always feels wonderful, doesn't it? That closeness between people is so important for our happiness.

Touch is the first of our senses to be developed. We're touching while we're still in the womb. And after we're born touch is the first thing we feel in this world. The soothing touch of our parents makes us feel safe and comforted.The amount that we are hugged and showered with affection during those critical early years of life can have a profound affect on us as adults. If we know what tenderness and caring feels like from our very first days, we are more likely to grow up into confident, compassionate adults. Without affection and connection with others we lose our ability to relate or feel comfortable around people. We might become hostile towards others or even depressed.

The benefits of touch work on an emotional, physical, psychological, and even cognitive level. Caring touch stimulates brain growth by releasing endorphins. The simple act of hugging can calm us when we're feeling anxious or soothe us when we're upset. Someone reaching out to place their hand on our shoulder when they know we need to feel comforted or acknowledged in some way is a beautiful gift. It helps us to know we're not alone and that people care about us. Touch can bring people together, forge bonds, and help us to feel accepted and loved. A warm embrace can change our lives for the better.

Sending you a big 'virtual' hug today.... :-)

"You can't wrap love in a box, but you can wrap a person in a hug"  ~ Author Unknown 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

'Humbert Humbert - scholar, aesthete and romantic - has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady's gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.'

I read Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita as part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge, which called for a book that was 'made into a movie.'

This book was hard to read for a variety of reasons. Humbert's obsession with Lolita was disturbing to say the least and I detested his use of blackmail to keep her by his side (he essentially kidnaps her and imprisons her for his sexual pleasure). Lolita may be precocious and flirtatious, but she is still an innocent child in many respects and this made his relationship with her utterly disgusting. 

Humbert talks a lot about loving the 'down' of a young girl - her soft body hair not yet affected by the hormones of puberty. He is in love with the girl-child, the 'nymphet' and Lolita is the embodiment of his desire for innocent flesh. Their love affair is nothing more than a way for him to indulge his fantasies. I felt sorry for Lolita who clearly falls victim to his deviance. 

That being said, Lolita has her own issues and uses Humbert's insanity and naivety against him. She is no wallflower, at least not by the end of the novel. She might enter the relationship out of curiosity and playfulness, but it clearly becomes a trap for her quite quickly.  

I found myself disliking Humbert and his narration the further I got in the story. The novel is broken up into two parts and I had a tough time getting through the second part. By this time I'd lost interest in Humbert's crazy, meandering, laborious narrative. The book has been called a masterpiece of dark comedy, but I struggled to find the humour (even dark humour) in this story. Humbert is clearly deluded, a self-absorbed lunatic, and completely messed up. I didn't see him as funny or heart-breaking at all.  

The book's description says it is full of 'ingenious word play', but to me Nabokov's use of language was at times irritating and far too complicated. Interspersing the narrative with French phrases and the over-the-top use of a large vocabulary was not, in my opinion, a genius way of writing. It interrupted the flow and took me out of the story too often for my liking. The 'genius' of this might actually be that Nabokov wrote the novel this way to show just how pompous Humbert is. I came to hate Humbert intensely, so if indeed that was Nabokov's intention his controversial novel 'Lolita' is certainly a success!   

Thursday, 28 March 2013

S is for Soul

It's week nineteen of Alphabe-Thursday!

S is for Soul...

As you can probably guess I am a big believer in the soul. I believe we are all spiritual beings with a soul who choose to incarnate as humans so we can experience life. I believe many of us are 'old souls' who have lived on Earth in some other incarnation in the past. I believe our souls reincarnate again and again to learn more and to experience more. 

I've always had an affinity with Ancient Egypt. As long as I can remember I've been fascinated by the culture, the spirituality, and the magnificent temples of the ancient Egyptian people. When I moved to London in 2004 my plan was to organise a trip to Egypt as soon as possible. I'd dreamt about going there since I was a little girl and I was determined to make it happen. In 2005 I finally got to fulfil that dream.

The interesting part of this story is that I actually won a holiday to Egypt! I entered the competition in a magazine and won a trip for two. I'd never won anything in my life and wouldn't you know it - I haven't won anything since! I believe it was part of my soul's destiny to go to Egypt because I believe my soul once lived as an Egyptian scribe (it's no coincidence that I'm a writer again in this life). That's why I won that trip - the universe was sending me there because Egypt was calling me home.

I believe all this because of the great shift that happened within me and in my life while I was in Egypt. I felt such peace while I was there, a peace I'd never experienced before. I felt in tune with energy for the first time. I could feel the spirit of Egypt in every temple stone and when I looked at The Nile I felt at home. There is no other way to describe it. It was the most powerful experience of my life. My time in Egypt opened me up spiritually, it reminded me of my spiritual essence, and from then on I was connected to my soul.  

I've spoken to many spiritually-minded people and we all share this common belief - that the place we are drawn to, the place that holds our attention from an early age, for no apparent reason, is most certainly one of the places we lived during a past life. Our souls have been here before and they will return again once we are gone. In that way, we can all live forever. That's a comforting thought, isn't it?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Book Review: As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry

'An abducted child. A ruthless killer. A race against time.

Haunted by her failures, police detective Isabelle O'Connell is recalled to duty by detective Alec Goddard to investigate the abduction of yet another child from her old home town. With the killer playing a game of cat and mouse they have only days in which to find the girl alive, but they have very few clues, a whole town of suspects and a vast wilderness to search.

For Isabelle, this case is already personal; for Alec his best intentions to keep it purely professional soon dissolve. He starts to think of the missing child as if she were his own, and his anguish over Bella's safety moves beyond just his concern for a colleague. Their mutual attraction leaves them both vulnerable to their private nightmares - nightmares that the killer ruthlessly exploits.' 

I read Australian author Bronwyn Parry's debut novel As Darkness Falls because it conveniently fit into two of my 2013 reading challenges - the Australian Women Writers Challenge and Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge which called for a 'romantic suspense' novel. I had heard about Parry's books through last year's AWW Challenge and was intrigued to see how a romance and a crime story would fit together in one novel.

Parry did well to write for two specific, and very different, genres and to combine them into one fast-paced story. She gave both elements of the story equal time on the page so I never felt the plot leant more one way or the other. Parry successfully grabbed my attention from the beginning because I was interested to see how a love story could possibly develop amidst a criminal investigation. 

The love story between Isabelle and Alec was definitely nice to read, but I did feel it moved way too quickly. They seemed to go from attraction to full-blown love within the space of a couple of days. I realise Parry needed the romance to fit into the time frame of the kidnapping investigation (which needed to be dealt with swiftly for the child's sake), but the speed in which their love grew was unrealistic for me. Not having read other romantic suspense novels, I can only assume that this is typical of the genre simply because there are two very important elements that need to fit into the book. In my opinion both elements suffer because of this.

The crime aspect of the novel was dealt with just as quickly and I admit I was quite surprised when the kidnapper was revealed. I don't think Parry left any clues along the way and when the time came for the detectives to work it out, it all happened a bit too easily. I wasn't entirely convinced that they could work it out the way they did.

Having said all this, the story was engaging and I did enjoy reading it. Where Parry excelled were her descriptions of the rural Australian setting. The small fictional town of Dungirri is richly depicted and I was really able to get a sense of the place. I grew up in a small country town in NSW so I could easily relate to the small town mentality!

All in all, an interesting first encounter with the romantic suspense genre. It was a good story, but I don't think I'll be returning to this genre any time soon. I prefer to read a well-developed, realistic romance or a gritty crime drama, not both combined.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

R is for Reiki

It's week eighteen of Alphabe-Thursday!

R is for Reiki...

When I started this blog three years ago I wrote a post entitled 'My Journey to Reiki and Beyond'. Re-reading that post today I realised that it still sums up so perfectly my feelings about Reiki and its effect on my life. So I'm re-posting it below...  :-)

But first I just wanted to acknowledge the 5 Reiki Precepts -

Just for today do not anger
Just for today do not worry
Honour your parents, teachers and elders
Earn your living honestly
Show gratitude to all living things

It is these precepts that make Reiki much more than just an 'energy healing treatment'. Reiki is a spiritual practice and a way to live one's life. With these precepts in mind, one can move through life with compassion and joy. One can take each day at a time and cherish every single moment.

Reiki is not a religion, but for me it is my faith in something grander than me, something divine.  

Here is my post from 2010 -

My journey to Reiki and beyond

'Reiki came into my life, like all good things, because I listened to my intuition. I’d heard of Reiki but knew next to nothing about it or how it could possibly help me. I was going through a time of change in my life, everything was new, and I had no idea which path to choose or what to do next. And then one day, like a single snowflake falling from the sky, the word ‘Reiki’ came into my mind. I found a local Reiki Master and booked myself in for a session. I didn’t know what to expect, but I trusted that it was the right place for me.

As it turned out, my Reiki Master noticed something in me that day, something that I was not even aware of myself – a desire to study this healing art. So by the end of that first session I’d signed up to do the Reiki First Degree course. The energy had a plan for me, it would seem, and I was grateful to be along for the ride.

I often think that my attunement to the Reiki energy during my First Degree course was really my attunement to life. Not that I wasn’t alive before, but I was living a sort of half-life. A life devoid of real awareness. Reiki became my initiation into the spiritual world. I began to view things differently – with love rather than fear. I began to write - something I’d talked about doing for years. I connected to my creativity. And I began to read - devouring spiritual and New Age books. I felt my mind expanding. I was desperate to know more, to feel more, to live more. I started meditating. I started tuning into my chakras. I bought crystals. My path had become illuminated.

Reiki is energy healing but it is also a spiritual path of self-development. Working with ‘invisible’ energy, feeling and seeing its healing power, had a transformational effect on me. I felt a shift in my consciousness, as though a door had opened. Through that door was the world of unlimited potential, the place where I could connect to my infinite divine essence. A place where love and joy abound. I’ve never looked back.

Since that initial burst of spiritual awareness, I’ve continued to develop regular practices – meditation, chakra balancing, and of course writing – to maintain my connection to the divine. Reiki has become a consistent part of my life (I completed Reiki II in 2008, and the Reiki Master/Teacher course in 2010). I continue to move deeper on my own journey within, the journey of my soul. And Reiki is the light that guides me.'

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Q is for Quest

It's week seventeen of Alphabe-Thursday!

Q is for Quest...

I consider my life to be a quest for spiritual growth. I long to know spirituality, to feel the essence of spiritual truth in my everyday life. Sometimes I get lost in 'normality' and forget to nurture my soul. When that happens I disconnect from the magic of life. But luckily something always brings me back - I witness a moment of compassion or Mother Nature inspires me and I'm instantly reminded that there is more to life than the everyday stresses.

But as much as I do long for knowledge, my spiritual journey has made me realise that the mysteries of our world can not really be understood by our brains. Our logical mind is limited - it will often convince us that what we know to be true in our hearts is actually wrong. But I've had many experiences since I started out on my spiritual quest that really do defy logic. I've witnessed synchronicity work its magic to bring just what I needed into my life at just the right time - as though I had placed an order for it! I've seen angels float into the room while I've been giving a reiki treatment and then had my client say, without me revealing my own vision, that they too saw the same being of light hovering over us. That kind of event can not be explained away as an overactive imagination. When two people see the same thing that is proof enough for me!

There is something far bigger than us at play in our universe. Whether you call that God or spirit or life energy or love, it all means the same thing - it is the light of the world, the divine presence that permeates everything. My spiritual quest is a lifelong exploration of that divine light. I want to experience it as much as I can, to let it feed my soul and bring me closer to the truth of who I am. I know I am a spiritual being - I am more than mere flesh and bone. I know we all have a divine spark within that guides us. It is my desire to always live from that spark and to help others connect to that part of themselves so we may all know just how truly magnificent we are.


Friday, 8 March 2013

Book Review: Slayer of Gods by Lynda S. Robinson

A teenager on the great throne of Egypt is a dangerous thing. Tempted by debauchery, unbalanced by power, King Tut is being driven mad by the thought that the unavenged soul of his beloved foster mother Nefertiti wanders lost in eternity. He orders his advisor, Lord Meren, to find her killer and bring her peace. 

Linking up with the seductive female spy Anath, Meren sails upriver to interview the only remaining witness to Nefertiti's death. But a fanatical enemy, trying to stop the investigation, sets a terrifying trap for Meren's son and daughter. 

Now Meren feels the bloodstained sands shifting beneath him. A titanic struggle between old gods and new has begun, and Meren's next move -- to save his family or catch a killer -- will have shattering consequences for this glittering world of palaces, temples and tombs.

For the Eclectic Reader Challenge I needed to read a 'historical mystery' novel, so I chose a period of history that has always fascinated me - Ancient Egypt. Slayer of Gods is the sixth and final book in Lynda S. Robinson's 'Lord Meren Series' and the mystery in question is the death of Nefertiti.

Back when I studied Ancient Egypt at university I was drawn to the reign of Akhenaten - the pharaoh who abolished the worship of multiple gods in favour of just one, Aten. Akhenaten's wife was Nefertiti so when I saw this book was about her death I quickly chose it.

In hindsight it would probably have made more sense to start reading the series from the first book because it was obvious at the beginning of Slayer of Gods that I'd missed a whole host of past Lord Meren adventures. That being said, Robinson did provide past details to fill the reader in so I wasn't completely lost.

Something that bothered me in the first few chapters was Robinson's use of a character mumbling to themselves as a method of exposition. While I appreciated the necessary knowledge being revealed, I found it quite unrealistic that a person would go around mumbling important information to themselves. They might think it but they certainly wouldn't speak it out loud in that way.

But after this initial hiccup I really got into the story. It kept up a quick pace and successfully threw me off guard a couple of times so I wasn't sure who the killer was. Slayer of Gods is a typical mystery novel that follows the formula of this genre. I'm not a huge fan of mystery novels, but the historical appeal was enough to keep me interested. And it was good fun to read a genre that I wouldn't normally.

What I loved most about this book was its setting. While reading I was constantly reminded of my own trip to Egypt and this really helped to make the book come alive in my imagination. It's obvious that Robinson has a love of Egyptian history and has done thorough research to make her book as authentic as is possible for a fiction story. I found reading about Nefertiti, Tutankhamun and Akhenaten very exciting. I'd happily recommend this book to people who enjoy the mystery genre and who have an interest in Ancient Egypt.