Books

Melissa’s Reading Round-Up April 2013

the storyteller

With so many excellent new release books to read, I was reading in a rush this month! I also increased my non-fiction quota significantly with a mix of books about simplicity and business books. Below are my April reads:

The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult

We follow the journey of Sage, a baker with a paralyzing scar and haunted by her past. A new friend gatecrashes her perfectly protected world and asks her for a favour of epic proportions, and the story begins. With interconnecting strands, Picoult weaves Sage’s grandmother’s story (a Jewish survivor), a 95-year-old ex-Nazi’s story and a fictional story written by the Storyteller. See my full review here.

The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty

A beautifully written story about the liberation of a 1920s small town housewife. The focus is the summer that Cora (the housewife) spent chaperoning a young ingénue (based on the life of silent film star Louise Brooks) and the undoing of inherited prejudices. The last part chronicles the rest of Cora’s life, living out her new ideals in the confines of her society. Usually I find academics (Moriarty is a lecturer in creative writing) to be pretentious, but her writing is delightfully accessible and full of warmth. See my full review here.

Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, by  Ed. Michael Schut

the girl's guide

This book is an exploration of simplicity of time, money, consumption, economics, food, theology and community. As an aspiring minimalist, interested in simplicity and creating my own “good life” it was a good anthology of writing in this area from the 1980s and 1990s. It has (of course) generated a reading list for further reading. See my mini-review of book about simplicity here.

The Good Life: Your Guide to a Greener and More Fulfilling Life, by Francesca Price

A great, visually packed guide of living the good life in New Zealand. Journalist, Price, outlines the research supporting the organic lifestyle—and it is considerable. She also provides recommendations for what to purchase and where, being wary of price.

The Girl’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business, by Caitlin Friedman & Kimberley Yorio

A funky, concise guide to becoming a female entrepreneur. Some of the advice is specific to America and some of it I don’t agree with, but there are some great tips and interviews with female entrepreneurs. The advice around business planning and marketing was particularly useful as these women run their own PR firm. While I would happily do business in pink heels, a pink dress and a pink car, I don’t believe there are different rules for women and men.

the indigo spell

Enough: Finding More by Living with Less, by Will Davis Jr.

While this book didn’t teach me so much about living with less, it did present a strong argument about the benefits of giving away more—a very Pentecostal Christian view of simplicity. I did learn a lot and it was full of references from the bible, which backs up his points perfectly.

The Indigo Spell, by Richelle Mead

This is the third book in the Bloodlines series and focuses on Sydney’s dawning understanding that her controlling Alchemist religion/employing organisation and her developing and asserting her independence. This is a highly readable, well-written book with an exceptional protagonist, a lovable (and gorgeous) hero, and an extremely addictive plot. Unfortunately, I have to wait until November for the next installment. See my full review here.

The Secret Circle: The Temptation, created by L.J. Smith and written by Aubrey Clark

This is the final book in The Secret Circle series. It opens up with Cassie trying to save her Circle from possession by her ancestors. The only friend, Nick, who is able to fight this possession, due to his love for Cassie, is my favourite character of this book. His strength helps Cassie to save the group and this includes saving her boyfriend, Adam. This was really a great book to escape into, the plot is addictive, and although the writing is not as sophisticated as The Indigo Spell (above), it was a good read.

The Temptation

I’m currently working on more business books, a Jane Austen memoir, a Jane Austen dating manual, and Jessica Alba’s The Honest Life. Hmm, I need to find a fiction book to add to my pile! Happy reading!

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Books, Fancy, Writing

Digital Sabbatical and Fun Links

The Host – Movie Tie-in

After a few challenging weeks, it seemed like a good time to declare a time out. So…I am going to refuel my dwindling energy tank and ignore the internet for the weekend. Before I sign off, turn the connections off on the cell phone, and relax, I thought I would send a few fun links of articles I have come across this week:

We are finally going to see The Host, so this interview with the author might interest you.

This interview with Jodi Picoult is a good five-minute read.

What Being a Writer Taught Me—a post about the author-entrepreneur.

I am currently zooming through The Secret Circle: The Temptation, but not before finishing and reviewing The Indigo SpellThese are nice reprieves from the heavier non-fiction books I’m reading at the moment.

Ten Books…All About Writers on Novelicious.com.

Whatever you have to do this weekend, try to schedule some fun activities that refuel your tank, and then Monday will be exciting rather than dreaded.

http://typeaparent.com/
http://typeaparent.com/
Books

Melissa’s The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead review

the indigo spellSydney is the perfect protagonist to read in the first person. She is intelligent, scientific, analytical, independent, strong, and some social interactions perplex her. Her exploration of deeply indoctrinated prejudices made it easy for me to go on the journey with her. I may be reading too much into it, but I really enjoy seeing people overcome imaginary barriers of different cultures—or species, in this case—interacting.

The Indigo Spell is the third book in the Bloodlines series and focuses on Sydney’s dawning understanding that her controlling Alchemist religion/employing organisation, and her developing and asserting her independence. With the same cast characters from the two previous books and the introduction to the enigmatic Marcus Finch, the leader of a rogue ex-Alchemist group, we continue the task of keeping Jill (half-sister of Moroi Queen Vasilisa Dragomir) safe.

This book is more centred around Sydney (a human), her blossoming relationship with Adrian (a Moroi—a mortal vampire), her acceptance of and learning how to use magic, and her two additional missions. Her Alchemist world-view is turned on its head and she comes to accept that she loves Adrian, no matter who or what he is, and that the world is not so black and white as the Alchemists would have her believe. Her mental wrestling to come to terms with these changes fascinated me, as I think in much the same way as she does, but purposely push against culturally inbuilt responses.

Richelle Mead was featured in my Ten Favourite Authors list with the award of “most addictive plot,” and this award is still well deserved. I devoured this book in three days. The only problem with first person is that I can’t get the characters out of my head now!

This is a highly readable, well-written book with an exceptional protagonist, a lovable (and gorgeous) hero, and an extremely addictive plot. Unfortunately, I have to wait until November for the next installment.

If you’re new to this series, try out the Vampire Academy books first as they are the preceding series to Bloodlines.

Books

Melissa’s Mini Round-Up: Books About Simplicity

The Good LifeIncreasingly, the world is turning to the solace of simplicity as a respite from the daily bombardments of life in 2013. Silent retreats and spa resorts are the holiday of choice for uber busy yuppies who spend their life juggling phones, tablets, laptops and iPods. I have been researching, for the past year or so, how to create a life of quiet contentment within this world.

I am a strange creature, I am part introvert, part extrovert—I thrive on adrenalin and people-action, but then I need to go to my room, close the door and listen to Mozart—seriously. While I crave the peace fostered by these lifestyles, I also:

  • Feel strongly about reducing my eco-footprint
  • Care about being kind to the earth and to the animals (let the chicken frolic if you’re going to steal her eggs)
  • Can’t avoid the fact that all the research and books I have read about overcoming chronic pain and fatigue point to a simple, vegetarian diet

A few of my April reads were about simplicity, so I thought I would provide a list of recent reads that have been guiding me in my creation of an alternative life.

Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, by  Ed. Michael Schut

This book contains extracts of writing about simplicity of time, money, consumption, economics, food, theology and community. Respected academics and writers who advocate simplicity as a way of life contributed the chapters.

There is also a chapter on the history of simplicity. The concept of simplicity is nothing new, from Walden (Thoreau) to this compilation in the late 1990s to now, it has been pursued by a variety of cultures and religions.

Enough

Enough: Finding More by Living with Less, by Will Davis Jr.

This is another book advocating a lifestyle of generosity rather than individualistic consumerism. I enjoyed the argument Davis put forward and seeing the evidence referred to from the bible readings provided. However, I was disappointed it did not provide more about actually living with less, it felt (at times) more like a call to give more money to your church, than a manifesto of living with less.

The Good Life: Your Guide to a Greener and More Fulfilling Life, by Francesca Price

A great, visually packed guide of living the good life in New Zealand. Journalist, Price, outlines the research supporting the organic lifestyle – and it is considerable. She also provides recommendations for what to purchase and where, being wary of price. I was shocked to find that it now takes eight store-bought oranges to provide the same level of nutrients as one orange from our grandparents’ era. I don’t have even a hint of the “green thumb”; however, I was inspired to purchase three potted herb plants as a start toward growing some of my own food.

Finding Sanctuary

Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, by Christopher Jamison

Jamison is a monk who hosted the television series “The Monastery”. In this book, he provides insights for Christian living, with practical suggestions for daily practice. He translates St Benedicts’s Rule for monastic living (written 1500 years ago) so that we can utilise this wisdom to live content, peaceful lives outside the monastery. I find that I lean toward the lay-monastic way, probably because I am an Anglican from way back, we like our systems.

No Impact Man, by Colin Beavan

The long title: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. A great read about the year Beavan went “no impact”, highly recommended to get you inspired to live off the grid.

Be More with Less and Simple Ways to be More with less by Courtney Carver

A great website and book for living simply, especially for health reasons—Carver shares how living simply helps her face a chronic illness.

The Kind Life and The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet, by Alicia Silverstone

A book and website promoting vegan living as a kinder way of life—for our bodies and the environment. This is easy to read and not too preachy while still giving you the research to back up the point.

Is your curiosity peaked? Check out some of these resources and let me know if they inspired you to try to reduce your lifestyle to a more manageable, simple one. Do you recommend any other websites or books in this area? I’m always looking for more reading materials.

Books, Top Ten

Melissa’s Favourite Ten Authors

Note: Not in exact order. Except for Jane Austen, of course. 🙂

1. Jane Austen

Must re-read every year!

Pride and Prejudice

Six truly classic novels that can be for any mood or stage, incisive and witty, and insightful.

2. Jodi Picoult

Will follow her anywhere!

Lone Wolf

Around twenty novels of all different subject matters, all treated with equal tenderness, intelligence, and insight.

3. Belinda Alexandra

Favourite historical novels set in the war period!

Golden EarringsBeautiful, sweeping tales from a range of different contexts  experiencing the war, i.e. China, Russia, Australia, France, Italy, etc Continue reading “Melissa’s Favourite Ten Authors”

Books

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty Review

The ChaperoneI seem to be continually provoked by the restrictions of women lately.  From Evelina (late 1700s), to Lark Rise to Candleford (late 1800s) to The Chaperone (1920s)—in just over a century a lot changed, but women’s freedom was still limited. Actually, everybody seemed restricted.

After reading about writers in the between war period (1920-30s, influenced by Romanticism in Modern Romantics) and reading the fiction produced about the time, I had imagined a far more glamorous world than was probably the reality for many. Even in The Great Gatsby and The Beautiful and the Damned there were illusions, it appeared glamorous, but the women were still controlled by their restrictions.

The Chaperone’s protagonist is a conservative housewife (Cora) who thinks that dresses showing women’s knees are provocative. The main journey of the plot is her expanding worldview thanks to a summer spent in New York chaperoning a young ingénue, Louise (inspired by silent-film star, Louise Brooke).

Her reading of The Age of Innocence started me thinking about how contexts influence understanding. In one of Cora’s earliest conversations with Louise, we see their differing interpretations of The Age of Innocence. In response to Louise’s distain at the fact that the hero didn’t end up with the woman he loved because of convention, Cora reflects: “In love with the Countess Olenska? A divorced woman? Cora hadn’t expected that. In lust with, yes. Perhaps the girl misunderstood. Perhaps she didn’t yet know the difference.” p38. Perhaps Cora didn’t understand. (I must read the book to find out!)

In just three chapters, the contrast between Cora and Louise (a smart, provocative young woman with a distain for the conventional) is firmly set. Creating expectations for a radical widening of the horizons of both.

Cora only bought The Age of Innocence to avoid the snobbery of Louise and her mother. However she says, “Although it was written by a woman, [it] had just won the Pulitzer Prize, and therefore seemed beyond reproach from even the worst kind of snob.” p37. Every character so far has expressed disdain for the other’s ideas or actions. Despite trying to allay Louise and her mother’s snobbery, she is actually a snob herself.

The emancipation of Cora was delightful. By the time she leaves New York, she has sat in a theatre next to African-Americans (I will not use the word the book uses), found and accepted her unconventional love, and considered that there is a middle ground between prudishness and forwardness.

This book was like respite after The Storyteller. It was beautifully written, although the third part was more for giving us an account of the rest of Cora’s life than outworking the plot. I am looking forward to reading more of Moriarty’s work.

Movies/TV series

Luke’s Oz: The Great and Powerful Review

ozgreatandpowerful-thirdposter-fullOz: The Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi

It has been 113 years since the first publication of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and 74 years since The Wizard of Oz movie starring Judy Garland first came out. When I was younger, it was my most favourite movie.

It was last year that I heard about Oz: The Great and Powerful. I knew it was going to be a prequel in some way. I knew that Michelle Williams, who I know as Jen in Dawson’s Creek, was going to play Glinda the Good Witch of the South, who performed brilliantly.

I knew that two other witches, Theodora and Evanora, were going to be played by Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz, who also performed well.

This was one of my most anticipated movies of 2013—along with The Host, based on the 2008 novel by Stephenie Meyer.

Basically, Oz: The Great and Powerful tells the story of how Oscar Diggs—also known as Oz—(James Franco), a small-time circus magician, is hurled away from Kansas to the Land of Oz. When he arrives in Oz, he finds it under the control of the “Wicked Witch,” but we soon learn that not all is as it seems.

This Oz movie is darker, and more intense, than the 1939 adaptation.

One of a million things I liked was that the beginning was in black and white, and then blossomed into Technicolor when Oz arrived in the Land of Oz, mirroring the same experience when Dorothy arrives at Oz.

Overall, the movie was amazing! All the characters, all the special effects, and all the settings, were wonderful! I highly recommend it to all who grew up watching the various Oz movies. And to anyone who loves fantasy!

–Luke

Books

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult Review

the storytellerI would follow Picoult anywhere, not literally, of course, but imaginatively. We have been to a school shooting, death row, a wolf pack in the wild, Nazi Germany—and she never lets me down. I wouldn’t ordinarily read about these things, but I know that in Picoult’s hands the subject matter will be dealt with tenderly, humanely and with a sense of realism.

She fully inhabits the most different types of characters and you believe them. In The Storyteller, she introduced me to whole new worlds. We follow the journey of Sage, a baker with a paralyzing scar and haunted by her past. A new friend gatecrashes her perfectly protected world and asks her for a favour of epic proportions, and the story begins. With interconnecting strands, Picoult weaves Sage’s grandmother’s story (a Jewish survivor), a 95-year-old ex-Nazi’s story and a fictional story written by the Storyteller.

I could never re-read this book, but I’m glad that I have read it. The writing is flawless, the plot is beautifully woven and the characters are delicious. There is even a recovering nun!

Picoult infused her characters with humanity—even when the inclination would be to create only monsters. And there are some monsters, unfortunately you can almost understand how they were created.

The book is full with the most profound of statements. Some of them cut through my heart:

“Loss is more than just death, and grief is the grey shape-shifter of emotion.” p8

“…as I got to know her [the recovering nun], I’d realize that when she gardens, she never sees the seed. She is already picturing the plant it will become.” p15

“Information in the ghetto travelled now like a wisteria vine: twisted, convoluted, and blooming from time to time with unlikely bursts of colour.” p236

“Sometimes words are not big enough to contain all the feelings you are trying to pour into them.” p365

This book took me on an emotional journey. Surprisingly, I did not cry the most during the torturous scenes, the frame-by-frame of the worst of human nature—but when she was liberated. This book made me ask some pertinent questions, reminded me that even though we have been here before, we still let unspeakable atrocities happen. Genocide didn’t only occur from 1939-45 to the Jewish people.

If I could, I would give this book a 6 out of 5—it was that good. Just beware: it is also a hard read. I wouldn’t recommend my 16-year-old brother (Luke), who is studying history now, read it. But then, this generation reads and watches a lot of things I wouldn’t recommend!

Adventures, Books, Fancy

A Visual Top Five from the Weekend: Books, walks and herbs

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Top five weekend April 7

I’m currently ruminating on how to review The Storyteller, it was a full, hard, beautiful read—so look out for that soon.

We explored another walkway within 15 minutes drive of our house, it was idyllic!

I tend to dramatically reduce the lifespan of plants by just looking at them, but I am trying an experiment: see if I can get herbs to live (and thrive), if that works I’ll move onto spinach and other vegetables. All part of my experiment with simpler living.

I hope you had a lovely, restful, book-filled weekend.

Fancy

Gone Reading – A New Way of Working: The Experiment

Pic from gonereading.com
Pic from gonereading.com

Nobody wants to spend 40-50 hours of their life per week working, right? I read some research the other day that suggested that only around 20% of those working would choose to, even if they didn’t have to.

For a couple of years now I have been watching the large and ever-growing blog world of simplicity and minimalism and I like the general idea. I particularly like those bloggers who pursue minimalism because they would prefer to spend more of their time doing things that they love, rather than just wanting to save a heap of money.

The world is slowly catching up to this work/life balance idea. I believe that:

  • If more people work part-time, there should be more jobs available
  • If you only work part-time hours, it is easier to stay passionate about your job
  • Part-timers are more productive (there is research about this!)

After two years of working three-quarter time as an experiment, I have downshifted again. I have taken on a contract to work 25 hours per week, doing something I love while still contributing to the social good. It is very exciting!

In order to do this I must surrender my long held love of structure and assurance. I must be willing to take the jump and hope that I have covered all of my bases – though, never in my life will I leave myself without the means to take my car to the garage or my dog to the vet (these are my responsibilities).

However, I don’t just lounge around in my extra time. I utilise it to do the things I have always wanted to do, I have a life list (like a bucket list) and a year list (things I want to achieve in the year). I also spend plenty of time with family and my dog.

Some of my 2013 goals include:

  • Starting this blog
  • My new job (I ended last year redundant and began this year only working half time)
  • Go to Christchurch and write an article about it
  • Read 100 books (and read more diversely)
  • Finish my magazine journalism course (which I have done)
  • Complete and submit a short story to a competition
  • Incorporate more organic and local produce in my eating

There are some little ones in addition to this that I add and tick off regularly – particularly around health, fitness and wellbeing. The point is that I have goals and work towards things in the time I have created for myself, which happens to make me a productive, passionate worker.

What would you do if you had more time?