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! :-)