Review: “A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald” by Natasha Lester

When I received this book for review, I was SO excited. The cover is gorgeous; as I said to my friend Lizzy, if the content was as good as the cover it might earn an elusive space on my bookcase (the alternative cover I’ve seen in NZ stores is pretty stunning too!). The book is also set in the Jazz Age, an era of opulence that I love to read about – I’ve previously enjoyed books like The Paris Wife and Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald. Finally, the blurb teased about a showgirl who wanted to become a doctor – colour me intrigued!

KissFitz

Evie Lockhart doesn’t fit in the box that her parents and her small town are trying to fit her in. She feels that her life is already planned out for her and yet, she feels so unsatisfied. Just as she’s beginning to wonder whether she can settle for her small world, one moment on a walk along the river changes her life. She comes across a girl from school giving birth on the riverbank and in the ensuing tragedy her eyes are opened to a dream that she barely dared admit to herself. I daren’t spoil anything for you, because I really want you to go and read this book, but her subsequent trip to New York City is a life changer.

Evie is SUCH a powerful female character. I admired her so much for pursuing her goals despite overwhelming adversity. She defies the complacency that is the accepted standard for women of the time (and dare I say, somewhat still relevant today) and does what she needs to do to create the world she wants to live in. Natasha Lester has created a complex character that is strong, yet soft; firm, yet gentle and a woman with a social conscience AND a heart filled with dreams.

Lester creates a totally engaging narrative that manages to keep the reader on their toes right until the very end. She’s not afraid to toy with our feelings towards some of our favourite characters. In the end, all the characters are gloriously flawed (including our heroine Evie) and I think that makes it all the more interesting for the reader. Evie, in particular, makes decisions based on the only way forward that she can see – whether that is the only possibility or not – and for right or wrong, follows through on those choices. There’s just something so gritty and real about her that I absolutely love.

Go out, get the book. Whether you’re into Jazz Age stories or not, Evie’s story is one of strength and one I’d recommend to anybody who is or who loves a strong woman.

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ANZAC Day

For those readers that aren’t Australian or Kiwi, today is ANZAC Day – a public holiday here in New Zealand. ANZAC stands for Australian & New Zealand Army Corps and it is a day when we remember those who have served in the defence forces to protect our countries and the special link that Australia and New Zealand have.

ANZAC

Growing up, I knew what it meant and I understood why we had this day but it didn’t really mean a lot to me other than a day off school and some red poppies. I understood the idea of sacrifice but not truly what it meant. I understood that my policemen uncles put their lives on the line but I didn’t really get it.

Then 2012 happened. The news blared on TV. Five New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Five soldiers who were part of the same unit as a dear friend’s partner. Suddenly the sacrifices that soldiers and their families made was real. My heart was in my throat at the thought of C in danger and I can’t even begin to imagine how G was feeling. It struck me then that, time after time, we’ve sent our soldiers into danger to serve and protect and that even in these days ¬†of modern warfare there is absolutely no guarantee that they will come safely home. It wasn’t a hypothetical any more. It was real.

The following ANZAC Day we were in Melbourne. We watched the troops marching to the Shrine of Remembrance and for the first time at an ANZAC service, I had tears streaming down my face. Thinking of how difficult it would have been for these men and women to leave their families. Thinking about the ones that didn’t come back. Thinking about how lucky we all were that C did.

I’m hoping to make the morning service with CJ this morning, but even if we don’t I’ll be taking him down to our local memorial today to show him the poppy wreaths and explain what so many of our friends and relatives have done to protect our country. I know he won’t get it now – he is only two – but it’s become really important to me that he does get it as he grows up. That it’s not just something that happens to other people, it’s about what “Suh-bin”‘s daddy and Uncle T do to make the world safe for him to live in. I don’t want him to think of ANZAC Day as just red poppies and a day off school; I want him to understand that the freedom of people around the world is built off the back of people who sacrificed everything.

If you or your family serve, we thank you.

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16 Random Things, Part 3

The things have piled up and it’s time for sixteen random things again!

Beauty

Personal Photo

1) I felt like a bit of a cruddy mum for starting CJ’s swimming lessons late – a swimming coach friend of mine had said from eighteen months but there was just so much going on in our lives at that time and it didn’t happen. But I think developmentally that starting at two was probably best for the little dude, he gets to go straight into the under-threes class and I’m getting amazing reports each week of new skills he’s picking up. And trying to practice in the bath ūüėā

2) My body temperature just doesn’t seem to be adjusting back down this year. I used to be totally heat intolerant and then this past summer it was like a switch flipped and I’m in a cardigan by the time the temperature hits the low 20s. What gives, body?

3) Without fail, every year that I use this poem with a class I have to hold back the tears. It’s so worth it, though, to get the kids engaged with poetry and also exploring ideas around self-worth and the opinions of other people.¬†I also love “The Crickets Have Arthritis” but there’s too many swear words in it for the classroom.

4) CPR is almost as efficient without the breathing as it is with – with rescue breaths, you’re only supplying the body with about 16% more oxygen. Your blood cells already have oxygen stored so keeping the blood circulating so that the oxygen can get to the brain ¬†is actually far more important than introducing more. So if a person you’re resuscitating have severe facial injuries, don’t worry about the breaths, just keep that heart pumping till help arrives.

5) Difference between guy and girl friendships? Standing at the bar with a female friend, telling her I think most of my recent weight loss has been off ass & thighs – she grabs my bum to check and says “You’re right!” ūüėÜ Do guys do this to each other? I’d love to know.

6) I’m really making a concerted effort to put in face-to-face time with friends this year – technology is great but nothing beats sitting down and having some real talk. I recently visited with my friend G (who I last saw when I was 9 weeks pregnant with CJ) and have plans to catch up with other far-flung friends on my travels this year.

7) I have a pair of trackpants that I’ve owned since I was fourteen… They’ve literally outlasted any relationship I’ve ever had. My ex wanted me to get rid of them; they’re definitely not as flattering as a pair of Lululemon yoga pants. But the fabric is worn in and soft and they feel like putting on a hug. I’m glad I kept them and I’ll keep them for those rough days until they finally give up the ghost.

8) I’ve come to peace with my new-found Bieber fandom by realising that it’s pretty much exactly how I feel about Michael Jackson. Don’t care much for the personality but I’ll be damned if those songs aren’t incredibly catchy!

9) Koala bears apparently have fingerprints that are so similar to humans that forensic investigators would have trouble distinguishing them at a crime scene. I’m thinking that not many crime scenes would¬†actually be contaminated with excess koala prints but it’s certainly a great alibi for any koala bandits!

10) I was in absolute fits of laughter all Monday this week Рso many funny things happened. My favourite would had to have been this massive hours-long message chain of smack talk that included the threat that they would {expletive} my {expletive} up and then would take CJ out for nuggets and I would have to stay at home. Friends that totally get your life are THE BEST. I swear I had ab pain the following day from the belly laughs.

11) Speaking of nuggets, I’m not a fast-food snob by any stretch of the imagination but I do not care for the fries from Maccas AT ALL.

12) I was talking with some of my students the other day about the one downside of a large vocabulary being that sometimes you get stuck on the fact that you know there’s a perfect word for what you want to say but you can’t recall it. Turns out there’s a word for that too – lethologica!

13)¬†The amount of change I’ve been through in the last year truly astounds me when I stop to think about it. Yet paradoxically I feel far more myself than I have in such a long time. Maybe there’s a longer blog post in that but to be perfectly honest, I think the pieces are still falling into place and I don’t have my head completely around it.

14) Every human spent about half an hour as a single cell. And yet we’re this complex as grown ups. Pretty crazy.

15) You’d think with a pantry full of food, CJ would bring out the good stuff now that he’s tall enough to reach the majority of the shelves. But no. His little head pops round the corner with the bag of rice or a container of breadcrumbs, a smile and and an “Open, pwease”. Dude, you do know there’s chocolate in there, right?

16) It struck me when out for a walk the other day that so many people spend so much time, effort and money to create beauty in their lives but how often do people appreciate the beauty that already exists within their day to day? It seems like a much easier road to joy. Or at least that’s what I thought when looking up through flocks of beautiful pink flowers.

If you’ve got something random you’d like to share, flick it below!

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Confessions #4

Usually these are an even mixture of serious and light-hearted but they seem a little on the serious side this round… ah well, that’s life really, isn’t it?

  • I was scrolling back through my blog posts a while ago and I could sense the patch where I was being a little inauthentic about what exactly was going on in my life, especially around this time last year. Part of me wants to edit those posts to reflect reality but I also know that I have other people’s feelings to consider and there will always be some things that I keep for myself. The posts themselves, they are as reflective of my life at the time as my mushy posts were around the time of my wedding, even if neither of those reflect my life or views now. I can’t pretend now that I’m the same person I’ve always been and deleting the posts is trying to ignore that a whole patch of my life happened. The older we get, the more complex our lives and histories are. I guess that’s actually a positive thing!
  • One of my dear friends had bariatric surgery. It was a fantastic decision for her and she is healthier than she’s been in years. She’s close to “lapping” me in her weight loss and despite knowing that our journeys are nowhere near the same, I did feel a little pang of jealousy that she’s getting there “faster” than I am. I snapped myself out of it, and I really truly am so proud of her and the amazing hard work and lifestyle change that she’s made to get to that point – I know it’s not an easy choice, nor the easy way out. But for a second there I was a bit envious and then disappointed in myself for being that way. Love you hun!
  • I know that I put out a strong and capable vibe most of the time, and that’s not a lie. I am the kind of person who will just suck it up and get on with it, even when Murphy’s Law strikes (and the garbage disposal unit literally falls out of the kitchen sink – true story), because I feel like I have no other choice. But I can’t deny that lately I’ve had a couple of days (see aforementioned kitchen sink for one) when I’ve just wanted to crawl into someone’s arms and have them stroke my hair and tell me what I already know, that a bad day is just that. It probably doesn’t help that Mother’s Day is coming up.

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  • Speaking about mum, I’ve realised that her passing has in some ways changed me for the better. I am so much more aware that life is incredibly short; I tell my people I love them regularly. I put up with less unhappiness and I’m not afraid to speak up for myself. I plan to make my dreams happen because I know that putting them off for years means that I may never get a chance to enjoy them. Given any chance, I would unlearn these life lessons to have her back in my life but I’m pleased that I’ve been able to draw something good from the situation.
  • It is beyond me why people do the “hate-follow”, yet I have seen SO much of it lately on social media. I know that there are trolls out there, who actively seek out battles, but it’s also everyday people who seem to be following social media accounts that just piss them off. People evolve and change, you evolve and change… sometimes what made you interested in connecting with that person’s feeds online just isn’t there anymore. There’s no shame in disconnecting when you feel that their social media just doesn’t bring anything positive to your life. Vote with your digital feet, avoid the drama and feel better about yourself.
  • I have a couple of close friends going through some major fertility issues and sometimes feel a bit guilty that my system has completely sorted itself since having and weaning CJ. I can literally pinpoint my ovulation like clockwork, meaning that there would likely be very little issue in getting pregnant if I wanted (the issue with CJ was that I wasn’t ovulating). It makes like zero sense but I sometimes feel like I’m wasting the opportunity that they so desperately want. I know it doesn’t work that way but the brain isn’t always a rational beast and I wish I could give them some of my baby dust.
  • All I ate on Saturday was an entire bag of Burger Rings because my nose was so stuffed that it was all that tasted normal. Washed down with copious amounts of fluids and double-loading zinc and Vitamin C, I actually felt ten times better the following day. I’m not saying it was the burger rings, but…
  • I like to lounge round and “air -dry” in a towel after my showers for way longer than I think is probably the norm. I obviously can’t do it all the time, because #life and all that, but there’s something so relaxing about it.

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Random things I’m grateful for…

Stuck in Auckland traffic (which I swear has to be my biggest bug-bear at the moment), I was literally at a standstill. I picked up my phone and then I had to laugh. In the moment, I was really grateful for my phone and the ability to text my boss and let her know that I might be late (I wasn’t). It got me thinking about a whole bunch of things that are never going to make an inspo-wall in terms of gratitude, but I am nonetheless grateful for.

Mobile data – I was really glad for mobile data on Monday. I had a friend going through a really hard time and the ability to email him while away from my computer and just help him through what he was going through was awesome. It’s also really handy for doing all that admin type stuff when you are stuck in traffic.

The general sweetness¬†of my current students– I’ve been setting up a new digital learning management system for our students and one of the functions on it is the ability for students to message the teacher. This, of course, has the opportunity to go absolutely haywire but instead I had a whole bunch of little messages saying “This is awesome!”, “Hi!” and asking me if I had had a nice weekend.

Frozen meals – both home-prepared and supermarket. I’ve had¬†some extremely heavy data-processing days this past week; I felt like I had run out of brain by the time that I came home and especially after I had put the little dude to bed. I was extremely grateful to past me for both batch-cooking and for buying some freezer meals so that this week I can just throw something in the oven and half an hour later, it’s dinner.

Magnesium and zinc Рthis seems to be the sweet spot for supplements for me. I add in other bits here and there, but these two are my personal non-negotiables. Having those two in my routine has made me feel much vibrant.

Biersticks – you know, the little salamis? I’m sure that there are healthier ways to get little pops of protein but I’m not sure that they’d be more delicious. I buy a kiddie pack of ten (cheaper) and ration them out across the fortnight between paydays – they’re perfect to chuck in my mouth as I’m rushing from work to the gym before daycare pick up.

The ability to write – it’s something I know I take for granted and I really shouldn’t. My creative stream was so stopped up until the middle of last year and now it all flows freely. The ability to express, imagine and create in words aids me in more ways than I probably realise and I am lucky to have that. Nothing better for getting gritty ideas out of your head in the early hours of the morning.

I’m grateful for so much more than this, but these were a few of the little things that deserved more credit than they usually get.¬†Are there any random things that you are grateful for?

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What I believe…

Belief is a funny thing. It’s such a shared yet individual experience. Some of our beliefs influence the way we lead our daily lives, others really have no bearing on anything except in deep metaphysical conversation. Some beliefs we hold for a lifetime, others change in an instant. Some of my beliefs have definitely changed, so I thought it might be interesting to record this as a snapshot of what I believe right now.

I believe:

  • In a higher power. I’m not sure I believe in the Christian concept of God anymore, which was a bit of a rock of my traditional foundations. But I just can’t believe that life on this earth is all we have. I have to believe that life goes on after death in some form. I’m not ready to believe that those I have loved have gone for good from all existence. I guess I’m agnostic? Jedi?
  • That life is a mixture of predestination and free will. I believe we all have the ability to make decisions about our lives but there are also other things that defy belief that it is just random chance. I¬†can think of at least a half-dozen such instances in my own life where circumstances have conspired in sometimes life-changing ways, that has to be more than just a roll of the dice.
  • In life on other planets. I think it’s very egocentric to assume that out of all the planets in all the galaxies in the whole universe, we’re the only one that sustains life. Will it be humanoid? Not necessarily, but I don’t believe that we are alone in the universe.
  • That children all deserve a right to quality education. I know that my son is privileged to come from a background where education and lifelong learning is valued and I know that many children aren’t. I see many students succeeding in spite of the backgrounds that they come from and I think it’s important to make schools safe and welcoming places so that students can come to that passion of learning themselves.
  • That sometimes, with some people, it feels like coming home. That deep-level connection – that soul-sister, soul-brother, soul mate connection? ¬†It doesn’t come along all the time and that’s what makes it so beautiful.
  • That as parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our sons and daughters about consent, preferably starting as soon as possible. In our hyper-sexualised society, I think that burying our heads in the sand is about the most unhelpful thing that we can do. I already talk with CJ in very basic terms about it – that different people like different affection and sometimes at different times: “C would really like a high five!” “A doesn’t feel like a cuddle today” “Ask K if they would like a kiss”. Those conversations will progress as he gets older, but I feel like that’s going to be more of a natural progression given that I’m laying the groundwork now.
  • That¬†you can’t change what other people think of you so you are better to live a life that you are happy with than one in which you consistently try to please or impress others. In the end, you are the only person whose opinion of you matters.

 

What do you believe?

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Review: Emperor of the Eight Islands, Lian Hearn

I’ve gotta be honest with you guys… this review is totally biased. I found the first novel of Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori series in a school library while I was pregnant with CJ and was hooked. When I got the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of Emperor of the Eight Islands:¬†The Tale of Shikanoko, it was a little bit like Christmas for me! But if you haven’t had the chance to pick up the original Otori series, don’t worry – this could still be a great book for you.

Shikanoko

The original Otori tales sprung out of the author’s desire to set a fantasy story in medieval Japan and this she does most successfully. In the same way that Potter or Martin fans crave anything new Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, Hearn fans wanted more, especially about the legendary hero mentioned in Heaven’s Net is Wide, Takeyoshi. While the original fantasy series tends more towards the historical fiction end of the spectrum, she was¬†inspired to set¬†the new prequel¬†Shikanoko¬†series¬†in a time¬†when the supernatural is accepted as a part of everyday life.

As I said earlier, you do not need to have read the¬†Otori¬†series (although I highly recommend it) in order to enjoy Emperor of the Eight Islands. Hearn makes a few clever nods to the original series but doesn’t lean on the knowledge of it to develop her plot and characters. As in the original¬†Otori¬†series, she creates well-rounded protagonists – while they may be heroic, they are also imperfect and flawed. I was also impressed that in a story set in a male-dominated medieval Japan, there were strong female characters who weren’t afraid to take on challenges to gain what they desired – selfishly or not.

The twists and turns in this story are something else. I can think of at least a couple of occasions where I was reading curled up in bed and literally gasped or clapped my hand to my mouth. This, I think, is one of my favourite things about Hearn’s writing – that it is not in the slightest bit predictable, that it’s an exciting read.

I’m a huge fan of both Japanese culture (it’s on the bucket list) and Hearn’s writing, but I’d recommend this book to any fantasy fan and anyone who likes a read that is full of action and that twists the brain. And of course, if you love this book, then pick up the original¬†Tales of the Otori¬†series!

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No such thing as too busy…

I had¬†a big long conversation with one of my friends the other day, at a time we both had clear in our schedules. Anything more than just a casual text or snapchat during the day (which we do a lot of, I’m not going to lie – it’s a great way to keep in touch with our special people) usually requires us examining our diaries – we’re busy people. But we’re not too busy for each other.

Ironically, one of the things that came up in this conversation was the excuse that we so often hear – “I’d love to, but I’m too busy…”. “I’ve just got so much on, I can’t fit {whatever} in”…

Bulls#!t.

It sounds harsh, but if you really wanted to? You would.

There’s no denying that some of us have more on our plate at some times than others. Sometimes stuff can’t wait and has deadlines – it’s true. But every single thing that we fill our time with? That is a choice. We’re adults. We get to choose what our lives look like, how we fill our time. If your choices are different to mine, that’s cool. But let’s be more real about the way we verbalise it.

The thought of {whatever} sounds nice, but it’s just not a priority right now.

Selling off my unused items on TradeMe needs to happen, but it’s just not a priority for me right now.

Hosting a three-course dinner party is something I enjoy, but it’s not something that I want to put on the to-do list right now.

Doing crafts with my kid would make some cute memories, but to be honest I’d rather be having adventures with him in the great outdoors right now, while this summer (that’s actually now a month into autumn) lasts.

All three things, I could have made the excuse that I was “too busy”… but let’s be real. They just aren’t priorities to me right now.¬†It’s not that I don’t enjoy having more money to put in savings, but I clearly don’t value selling the items over say, going to the gym. It’s not that I don’t enjoy cooking massive and complex meals for the people I love, but I just don’t feel like adding the responsibility of that to my plate right now. While having cute stuff my kid and I made together would make me feel like a Pinterest-perfect mama, it would, in the end not really feel rewarding in any other way.

We get to choose what and how we fill our hours. My days are full right now but no more full than yours, or hers, or his. I sometimes choose to work through lunch so I don’t have to take any work home. I sometimes choose to sit in the sun with a hot chocolate for twenty minutes before picking my son up and space out and think and plan and dream. I sometimes choose to bake cookies or scones and I sometimes choose to pick up dinner when it has been an absolutely crazy day. All of those choices reflect what is most important to me in my life, at that point. I’m not going to lie… sometimes the priority on a Sunday afternoon is a nap. And I am totally fine with that.

Looking at things this way can sometimes be hard. As much as I wish I was a Pinterest-perfect mama with awesome craft activities, I’m not. It’s a lot harder to hide from our expectations and our reality when we look at things this way. It can certainly be an eye-opener as to what is really important to us. But it’s freeing. Be who you are. Don’t apologise about what’s important to you. Just don’t blame it on being busy.

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CJ Says #4

When he drops a remix:

“Bob the builder, eat a biscuit / Bob the builder, ring a plane”

 

When he’s working out how to tell fibs:

  • Me: So dinner and then bath time, okay bud?
  • CJ: No, no bath time
  • Me: Why not?
  • CJ: Oh I sorry, it broken ūüėā

 

When everything is an engine:

  • Extractor fan – “engine!”
  • Hand dryer – “engine!”
  • Ceiling fan – “engine!”
  • Waterwheel – “engine!”
  • Basically anything that’s at least two of round, noisy or propeller-like – “engine!”

 

When he tells you about his dream vehicle:

“When I big I have a mowa-bike. It be a big mowa-bike. It be a b(l)ue mowa-bike. It noisy and go grrrrrrrr-ba-ba-Ba-Ba-BA!”

 

When he gets things absolutely right but manages to sound a little creepy:

Looking at a geothermal hot spring (the Rachel Spring in Rotorua)

  • Me: It’s very hot. The water comes up from the ground and it’s already boiling hot, so hot it could cook an eggie.
  • CJ: No swimming
  • Me: That’s right, it’s not good for swimming
  • CJ: It cook me wike a eggie.

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Review: “The Perfect Girl” by Gilly MacMillan

It’s a tale as old as time – someone hiding a dark secret and an incident happening that reveals their chequered past. Yet for Zoe, the heroine of our tale, this is only the beginning of a night that will leave her family changed forever. Gilly MacMillan takes this trope and turns it on its head, leaving us knowing that everyone has their dirty little secrets and that life is truly (to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott) a very tangled web.

PerfectGirl

Maria has the perfect suburban life. A blended family, sure, but with two pianist prodigy children and another adorable baby daughter with her new husband, she’s leading a picture-perfect life. What no one knows is that her elder daughter, Zoe, has done time in juvenile detention for a drink-driving incident in which she killed three other teens. On a night where they stage her¬†comeback concert in a local church, the father of one of the victims exposes her past misdeeds. And in the morning? Maria is found dead.

Believe it or not… this is not a spoiler. The story that MacMillan has written is so much more than the events that start it off. And even though the story is a thriller and takes twists and turns to get to the inevitable reveal of the killer, this is truly only half the story. MacMillan¬†has an incisive look at the reality of human nature; that most of us aren’t wholly good or wholly evil. Her timely reveals of people’s true character keep the reader on their toes – I went from detesting Richard, the alcoholic uncle, to feeling that he was one of the quiet heroes of the piece.

In a society of Pinterest and Instagram-perfection, this story is more relevant than ever. Zoe continually refers to her situation as her Second Chance family and the pressure on leading that idyllic life is intense for ALL involved. MacMillan keeps the story tripping along quickly, revealing just that little more about each character, seeing behind the facade to what really lies beneath.

While this novel is a thriller and deals with drink-driving and death, there are no hideously graphic scenes. This is a great gateway book to the thriller genre and one I wouldn’t be too concerned about giving to a teen to entice them into reading. It would also appeal to those people fascinated by the human condition – if you love to people-watch, you will love this book. Happy reading!

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