Books

Luke’s Dare You To Review

Dare You To

Dare You To follows Beth, who first appeared as a minor character in Pushing the Limits (review here), as she overcomes the obstacle of learning how to trust—not just in others but herself. It also follows Ryan as he risks everything for Beth, who won’t let him get too close.

“You’re a lot like that bird in the barn. You’re so scared that you’re going to be caged in forever you can’t see the way out. You smack yourself against the wall again and again and again. The door is open, Beth. Stop running in circles and walk out.”

—Ryan to Beth


Both Beth and Ryan have their struggles. Beth finds it difficult to trust as when she was younger, her father walked out on her and her mother. Also, her uncle, who was in his late teens at the time, said he’d come back for her, but he hadn’t. Instead, she had to fend for herself and her mother, who remains a wreck since Beth’s father left.

There is tension in Ryan’s family, as well. His brother walked away after coming out to the family. It’s mainly because of the father’s reaction—which wasn’t good. Also, he doesn’t know what he wants. Does he want to play ball? Does he want to go to college? His father wants the former. His English teacher wants the latter, because of his creative writing skills.

The struggles Beth and Ryan have together involved learning to trust one another and falling in love. My favourite part is the ending, but my lips are sealed.

In Pushing the Limits, Beth wasn’t a likable character. She didn’t react so positively when Echo came into Noah’s life. However, in Dare You To, I completely understand why she’s the way she is. Ryan is a great character himself. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks when he risks everything for Beth.

Overall, Dare You To was awesome! The writing style was brilliant, just like Pushing the Limits. It was different because it was written in first person present tense rather than past tense, and I love present tense a lot! Katie McGarry has impressed me yet again. I can’t wait to read Crash Into You, Isaiah’s story.

Fancy, Fibro

What Fibromyalgia Taught Me: My Journey so Far

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A funny set of learning from a journey filled with pain and fatigue, but these are things I’ve gradually learnt living with a chronic illness.

My story of happiness and wellness didn’t begin until a couple of years ago. Prior to that, I coped, but only barely.

The pain began when I was a young teenager and grew over a period of around 10 years. By 17, when I was at university my shoulders would ache and burn so much at the end of the day that I usually ended them in tears.

No one knew why I had this pain. Some of the doctors intimated that they thought I was making it up.

I was struggling through university, in my final year, when I was hit with an extremely bad bug. Profound fatigue and flu-like symptoms descended upon me like a ton of bricks. There are 9am tutorials from which I can only recall my near inability to keep my eyes open. After a few weeks, I saw a doctor and they gave me antibiotics. It took a further few weeks for the symptoms to recede but the fatigue had made a permanent home.

Doubly burdened, I struggled through the remainder of university, graduated and entered the workforce.

I have since realised that my inability to do and care about a job for long is related to my illness. I need a lot of passion to drive me through the fog, pain and fatigue to complete my work.

After four years, I was barely coping, feeling just a step away from fainting at every moment. I was sleeping terribly and waking unrefreshed. With nausea and levels of pain at 6/10 by 10am. By 3pm pain levels rose to 8/10, the caffeine needed to keep me from falling flat on the desk caused further nausea; the jaw and temples felt as though someone has a wrench and was turning them constantly tighter. Minutes crept by until 5pm, cue an hour-long bus ride on which to keep from vomiting, falling asleep or crying (or all of the above). The evening was a blur of lethargy, waiting until bedtime.

That was my life. Yet, I managed to look normal (albeit a little paler), complete my work and occasionally force myself to socialise.

After many years of struggling and of tests and regular blood tests revealing nothing, the doctor was able to check the 18 tender points and confirm that I had fibromyalgia. That was all that they did. There was no medicine, no advice, and no referrals. There weren’t many books or websites yet either.

Coop is gorgeousThe turning point came when my parents invited me to move to Auckland with them. I was able to put the changes into place that I’d been dreaming of, starting with slightly reduced work hours. Working 3/4 time, in a warm climate helped immensely. So did meeting the love of my life – a ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Coop!

In the first year in Auckland, I didn’t do much more than recover. I worked until 2.30 each day, utilising my skills to support an organisation that worked with vulnerable families. I rested in the afternoons and gradually increased my evening walks with Coop.

The second year was more eventful. I began a writing course (I’d always wanted to do one) and I found an excellent, caring, knowledgeable physiotherapist who introduced me to acupuncture – the only treatment that isn’t akin to torture, and the effects last. Perhaps most importantly, she was the first person ever to understand the extent of what I had been dealing with.

This year, the most exciting things have happened. I started a blog and my own business – these have enabled me to do what I am passionate about. Also, I met a man who not only loves me as I am (for all my quirks) but also wants to understand my fibromyalgia, who wants to help me with this burden. The enormity of this cannot be appropriately articulated.

Melissa Gershwyn Aug 13

Some of the things I’ve found that help are:

  • Working 3/4 time
  • Eating healthily
  • Yoga, Pilates and stretching
  • Walking my dog daily (for the exercise, the time out and the pleasure of being outside)
  • Resting
  • Seeing my physiotherapist every couple of weeks
  • and following my passions

With the ability to look back, I’ve become very protective of my new life. I hardly ever lose words anymore, my memory is improving and so is my spacial awareness. The nausea is far less frequent and headaches only tend to bother me every couple of weeks – and they don’t drive me to bed so often. My neck still causes me trouble, but the extreme tightness, dizziness, nausea and faintness is much rarer.

Most importantly, I am living life, not just coping.

I have a larger capacity for empathy. I have been forced to work only enough to live, in a job I am passionate about with no stress, and I love it. Seeing friends bust their guts working 40-50 hours per week in jobs they don’t love makes me thankful that I have learnt that I don’t need the money or the prestige. I’ve gladly skipped the year living in London, buying fancy cars and clothes – because my dreams lie elsewhere.

I hope I make a difference in the lives of those that intersect with mine. I hope I always know what’s important.

Adventures, Fancy

Exploring in the Coromandel

Just over two-hour’s drive from where I live is the renowned Coromandel Peninsula. It is a body of land that stretches up from the Waikato Region and is separated from Auckland by the Hauraki Gulf. It is known for its beaches and its forests. Crazily enough, I hadn’t been there before.hot water beach

My boyfriend, Gershwyn, and I set off for this paradise at lunchtime on Friday and spent two glorious nights in the middle of a native forest – it was literally in the middle of a forest, we had to drive through a shallow stream after driving away from the main road and up a particularly narrow windy road for ages. There was no cellphone coverage. It was the middle of nowhere.

On our first morning, made our way to the Hot Water Beach – if you visit one hour either side of low tide then you can walk to the place where you can dig down to reveal volcanic heated water, wait for the waves to bring in the cold water – and you have your own ready made spa! We didn’t make it in time for the hot water, but it was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. With brilliant blues (the sky and the water) and a cave, what else would you want?

Our next stop was a 45-minute bush walk to Cathedral Cove. It was an amazing combination of beaches and forest. Gershwyn made me spend much time posing so that he could perfect the settings on the camera to capture (many) photos, which resulted in a lot of pictures of me with the oddest of facial expressions (I deleted the worst of them!). The end result was some amazing photos that we will cherish for years to come.

On the second day, we went to New Zealand’s “quirkiest theme park” The Water Works – it was a lot of fun!

cathedral coveWe then carried on into the Coromandel Township and a little north to the Driving Creek Railway where we took the one-hour train ride up the hill through the forest. It was the most amazing experience, climbing up the hill in the little train to find the view of the gorgeous Hauraki Gulf. It was amazing to hear the mission of the owner to restore the forest and wildlife.

Driving home through the back roads along the coast it was hard not to feel sad at leaving this paradise behind. Two days exploring a beautiful, new area with my most favourite person and a forest on my doorstep was my idea of ecstasy. Leaving these things was the opposite.

Books

Melissa’s Review of The Wedding Bees, by Sarah-Kate Lynch

I’ve been reading a most scrumptious book! Sarah-Kate Lynch, a Kiwi novelist, has produced another delicious story full of unconventional characters – this one includes snippets from the point of view of a queen the wedding beesbee!

Sugar Wallace arrives in Manhattan with a bang, instantly generating chemistry with a loud shirt wearing man with a cellphone attached to his ear. The Wedding Bees begins when Sugar moves into a building at 33 Flores Street that is full of discontented tenants with all her worldly possessions – that includes a beehive. From the first page, we notice Sugar’s cheery disposition, love of manners and ability to acquire friends. She sets about fixing the lives of those around her while trying to hide her own hurting heart.

Honey and other foods take a centre stage in this book, as is Lynch’s trademark. The research into beekeeping and honey making is evident. My honey consumption tripled while reading this book!

I was hooked from the first time I opened the crisp new cover. Lynch writes with fresh, pithy description and takes the time to set scenes in a distinctive voice.

The relationship between Sugar and Ruby, a young woman suffering from anorexia, is compassionately drawn, without veiling the harsh truth of the disease. One particular quote illustrates Lynch’s distinctive voice when Ruby asks Sugar what love is like:

“Most of the time you feel like you ate a bowlful of bad shrimp. Your head tries to tell you one thing but your body has a whole different take on it. It’s like being on a runaway rollercoaster with a belly full of barbeque.” p159

This was a very sweet book with a gorgeous ending. Lynch’s humour, knack for setting a scene and deliciously odd characters swept me away again. You can imagine my excitement when I read on her sporadic blog that she has written another book! Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga is in its first draft stage! So I am now eagerly awaiting that.

Books

Melissa’s Review of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler

This book broke my heart and forced me to renegotiate my recent obsession with The Great Gatsby and its author. Zelda Fitzgerald piv

Based on what is known about the devastatingly short lives of the couple of the Jazz Age, Fowler has created a version of what may have occurred.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is told in the first person over a period of twenty years, which adds to the sense that you are inside Zelda’s life. Fowler traces Zelda’s young adulthood in the haze of the First World War; Zelda and Scott’s courtship; their marriage and its disintegration; and leaves us with a wrap up of the short gap between Scott and Zelda’s deaths.

“and his speech had that dramatic flair you find in people accustomed to playacting in theatre, as I was. When you’d spent so much time performing on stage, the habit bled into your life.” p 23

I read this book slowly, devouring the writing and the detail. Fowler captured the essence of a woman who saw vivid colour, tremendous highs and shocking lows.

The presence of Scott’s control of her was abundantly clear and grew from a restraining hand on her arm (to stop her talking in a way he didn’t like), to the black eyes, to the threat of taking her daughter away and culminating in his keeping her locked up in an asylum.

“I learned that if I consented to his outings regularly enough, on other nights I could go do what I preferred.” p 223

The treatments she received in the asylums sickened me. I so dislike how they treated those whose differences they did not understand. How could they think that pumping poison into someone and causing seizures could help?

The ‘reeducation’, the idea that her sickness came from her not putting her family first, and the fact that Scott, so clearly ill himself, was able to keep her locked up and (basically) tortured – chilled me. Explorations into our not-so-distant history provide all the fodder we need to populate the dystopian and horror stories that we are so enamored with.

Fowler has created a convincing interpretation of what could have been the story of Zelda Fitzgerald. One of wasted potential, of being misunderstood, of embodying the culture of the Jazz Age.

A beautiful, engrossing and lyrical read.

Books

Melissa’s July 2013 Reading Round-Up

how_to_read_cover

Happy August! For us (in New Zealand) it is the last month of winter to endure, so it is rather cold, but I am convinced I can smell spring!


How to Read like a Literature Professor
, by Thomas C. Foster

I don’t know if it is the English Literature graduate in me, but I love books about reading. I often take away a few additions to my to-read list, which I have no hope of ever getting to the bottom of. Foster has written a very fun, easily accessible guide to understanding literature. I’m keen to read his other book, Reading Novels like a Professor.

The Fibromyalgia Nutrition Guide, by Mary M Moeller & Dr Joe Elrod

This book outlines the ideal meal plan for those struggling with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and other chronic illnesses. In fuss-free terms, it describes useful foods, including medicinal herbs and advises a way of eating to fuel a tired body. There’s also plenty of recipes.

Magazines

Typically, I don’t include magazines, but this month I have gone overboard. I have found the way to order magazines from the library catalogue, before they even come out! This month I have had Writer’s Digest from May/June, July/August, and September; Elle from May; Vanity Fair from April; and Next from July. It is very exciting.

zelda fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler

Fowler has created a convincing interpretation of what could have been the story of Zelda Fitzgerald. One of wasted potential, of being misunderstood, of embodying the culture of the Jazz Age. A beautiful, engrossing and lyrical read.

I have already made a jump start on my August reading list. I finally have my hands on The Wedding Bees (see my interview with Sarah-Kate Lynch earlier this year here); my reading group has agreed on a Lee Child book–something different (!); and I have Lean In on the pile.

Books

Luke’s Goddess by Josephine Angelini Review

“She must rise, or they will fall”

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UK cover (Macmillan Children’s Books)

Helen must find a way to re-imprison the gods when they are accidentally unleashed from Olympus. Along with this, fingers point to Orion when the Oracle warns that a diabolical Tyrant is lurking among them. And Helen is forced to make a terrifying decision—for the war approaches.

“My whole life I’ve wondered what it feels like to be loved like that. To be loved more.” 

—Orion to Helen

When I picked up Goddess from the library, it was hard not to start reading it. So…that is exactly what I did…despite all the books that needed to go back before it.

It continues from where Dreamless ended, after the battle against Automedon—who appeared in Homer’s Iliad, which is, by the way, on my to-read list on Goodreads now. Helen, Lucas, and Orion released the gods from their captivity in Olympus after becoming “Blood Brothers” at the end of Dreamless.

I loved the flashbacks of Troy and Camelot. Helen remembers the memories of Helen of Troy and Genevieve, her past lives, which started since touching the River of Styx. These two women share the same appearance as Helen, as do Orion, Lucas and his family look like the gods. All the memories included Paris and Lancelot, and both look like Lucas. I loved the portrayal of the two different times—they are much different from the modern world we live in.

The writing style is elegant. The characters are stronger than before, especially Helen, who seemed wiser, took up more responsibilities, and evolved into a goddess. It was action-packed—more so than the first two instalments in the trilogy. It’s one of my very favourite books, along with Starcrossed and Dreamless. I want to re-read them all!

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US cover (HarperTeen)

Josephine Angelini wrote such an enthralling, intricate, breathtaking, and unforgettable saga of love, hate, fate, and revenge.

Now that I’ve read Goddess, I am sad to see this amazing trilogy come to an end.

But…Josephine Angelini said in a Q&A that she hasn’t “really said goodbye just yet” to the Starcrossed world. She was thinking about “writing prequels to the series,” and to continue Helen and Lucas’ story in a few years. There was still a “few lingering issues to deal with that would make interesting storylines” at the end of Goddess.