Beach run

At dusk, a boy and his dog run on the beach at low tide.

A cool gentle breeze ruffles hair and fur as they fly over damp sand, huge beaming grins erupting on both their faces.

‘C’mon, girl!’ the boy calls over his shoulder. ‘Let’s go!’

The dog bounds up beside him, her ears flapping, her legs moving in perfect unison. She cannot remember ever having more fun than this, in this wonderful moment with her boy.

The early morning sunlight glistens on the blue sea like diamonds, and the salty scent of  water and weed fills their nostrils. The beach seems to flow on forever in one continuous sandy stretch – both boy and dog long to reach its end, to find out what lies at the tip of the boundary of both their worlds. But, nature has made them fallible.

The boy stops, out of breath, and rests his hands on his knees. The dog comes to a rolling stop at his feet.

‘Sorry, girl,’ he says, as he gently scrubs at her ears. She peers up at him, panting, her pink tongue flapping out of her face.

‘I just don’t have as much energy as you.’

After a brief moment of rest, the boy turns back to the dog.

‘What do you think, girl? Race you home?’

Tail wagging, with the boy’s laughter splitting the sky behind her, the dog races away back towards the beach’s entrance, water lapping at her paws.

As always, she’s the first one home.

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Book title: Artemis

Author: Andy Weir

Page Numbers: 384

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

I really enjoyed this one, but I wasn’t utterly blown away like I was with the Martian.

The world building was interesting and well done, although I would have liked it to have been expanded a bit more. I really enjoyed learning about how the first and only city on the Moon worked, and the unique culture that was developing as a result. I liked the idea that the Kenyans were responsible for the first city on the Moon because of their proximity to the equator – I just thought that the overall feel of the city could have been more African than American. Just as with the Martian, I found the science mostly fascinating – particularly the medical issues that people on the Moon face, such as having to return to Earth when pregnant, because fetuses can’t properly develop in the womb on the Moon (heh) or that you can’t move to the Moon before the age of 12, or it may permanently affect your growth and development. I wasn’t overly fond of all the welding stuff, and some of Jazz’s dialogue doesn’t really sound much like how women actually think or speak.

I did miss the humour and the wonderful characterisation from the last book though. Jazz just wasn’t as likeable as Mark Watney. Mark was utterly adorable, and every page sang with his personality and his wonderful sense of humour. Jazz was tough, mean, and kinda bitchy. Her sense of humour felt more… 12 year old boy. She didn’t seem to form relationships with people easily, and her methods of making a living were shady at best. I did enjoy Jazz’s email-based friendship with Kelvin, and her growing relationship with Svoboda. Her moral compass was shaky but generally seemed pointed in the right direction.

Overall, the book was well-written and interesting, but I feel like it was lacking something vital that would have made it a 5 star read.

Book Review: Lost Boy by Christina Henry

Title: Lost Boy

Author: Christina Henry

Page Numbers: 318

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I loved reading this story. It ties in so well with J M Barrie’s classic kids lit masterpiece. The idea of Peter Pan as a cruel, malevolent being – a true sociopath, really – was fascinating, as was the gradual realisation of the identity of the narrator, and his horrible fate. I was hooked (heh heh) from the very first sentence.

The Neverland island setting was at once magical and malign. Fantastic beings and creepy monsters mixed with pirates, sandy beaches, lagoons, and hollowed out trees to create a landscape that is both familiar and alien. The characters were also brilliantly rendered. I adored the narrator, and how he regained his humanity through his brotherly love of 5 year old Charlie and strong, steadfast Sal. The plot was cleverly done and well executed, and my heart broke for them all at the end.

After the glorious retelling of Alice and now this story, I will definitely read anything Christina Henry writes.

Summer breezes, beachy days

I adore this time of year. Not just because of Christmas, though I love that too. But because summer is back. I love beach dresses and sunglasses, and the act of packing a bag with a towel, a $5 note for ice cream, and a bottle of sunscreen, and just wandering aimlessly down to the ocean for a leisurely dip. It’s refreshing, both physically and spiritually – after just an hour spent in the sea, I feel as if my cares and worries have been cleansed, and I emerge from the ocean sparkly clean and vibrantly new.

I have lived along the seaside my entire life, but since moving to a little sand island just north of Brisbane 16 years ago, I’ve fallen more in love with the beach and everything it embodies. The colours are fantastic – the bottle greens, the vibrant turquoise water that we are lucky enough to experience this far north of the city, the deep blues, and the creamy white sand. I also love the animals – the sea birds, of course, but the turtles and the dolphins. Everything seems at once playful and relaxed, which is just the way I like it. I feel as if I could spend every day by the water’s edge and never tire of it, though my skin might.

The Gentle Last Song

At dusk, the breeze

blows gently through leaves

and the sun shines light orange

in a pale blue sky.

 

Everything is gentle, calm.

Even the birds; singing one last sweet song

before the great flutter of wings taking flight

seeking

a safe place to roost for the night.

 

The sun is at once more and less

than it might be at noon.

The sky at once bigger and bluer

and yet stiller,

as if waiting for the onset of millions

of tiny pinpricks of light

and the pale rocky face of the moon

that keeps sentry over all

sleeping things.

 

Dusk is the gentle last song of day,

the last orange burst of flame,

before night tenderly

snuffs it out.

Byron Bay and the Long Weekend Getaway

Last weekend, I took a Saturday off work and made the 3 hour journey south from Brisbane to Byron Bay. For those who’ve never been or never heard of it, it’s a famous beach side town in northern New South Wales held fondly in the hearts of surfers world over.

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Having never been before, I still had an expectation of what I’d find when I got there. You assume it’ll be laid back, pretty, and full of people with relaxed views of the world and tough views on people who care nothing for the planet or the environment. I think I can safely say I was right.

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The local community is a strong force in Byron. Everyone is concerned with the impact that tourists are having on the beautiful local beaches, the cleaniness and busyness of the town’s picturesque streets, and the unsavouryness of some of the people who holiday there. There have been arguments put forward about a bed tax, and then counter-arguments about the fact that the money never goes back into the local community and they see little to no benefit from it. It’s a quandary all areas high in tourist numbers face, and one we’re only going to hear more about in the future.

I think my favourite things about the area are the lighthouse and its extraordinary views, the adorable rock wallabies, the vegan restaurant called The Beet and it’s amazing menu, and the relaxed, surfy vibe that permeates the entire town. Who wouldn’t want to live there? And that’s 80% of Bryon’s problem.

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Retold Fairytales – For love of the genre

Retold fairytales are one of my absolute favourite genres when it comes to books (and what I write!). There is something innately special about the reworking of beloved old folktales like East of the Sun, West of the Moon or Sleeping Beauty, and the thousands of creatively expressed stories that result. It’s a very personal thing, I think, the way an author decides to retell a fairytale and the new worlds they design around familiar characters.

One of the key aspects of retold fairytales lies in originality. I know, it seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but if you are taking a story that has been an intrinsic part of storytelling and popular culture for centuries, you need to add a new twist, a shot of creative universe building, to make the story fresh, new, and interesting. You’ve got to have Cinderella fighting her own battles and standing up to her wicked stepmother; you’ve got to have Jasmine weaving her own magic carpets and becoming sultan in her own right; you’ve got to have a cyborg Belle downloading books into her brain direct from the source and travelling the countryside, reading to children. Breaking the mould and seeing characters you’ve adored your whole life in amazing new situations is what makes the trope so noteworthy. And I think it’s why we keep revisiting the old stories we’re so familiar with; there are just so many amazing possibilities.

Here are a few of my favourite retold fairytales and  their brilliant authors:

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.

This story centres around the old Six Swan fairytale, where six men are turned into swans and their sister has to weave six shirts made of nettles in order to free them. Juliet Marillier sets her beautiful story in ancient Ireland, a land already doused in magic and the supernatural, and creates something truly stunning. Sorcha is brave and steadfast in her task, despite the awful circumstances that surround her, and the ending is well worth the pain and suffering she goes through. I have always thought that her brothers took what she went through for granted though.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley is the Queen of the retold fairytale genre; Beauty is the best example of why she’d held the crown for so long. The beauty in this story is awkward and falls short of the looks her sisters have, but she does have personality. The decision she makes to travel to the castle is one of love and sacrifice, and the relationship she has with the Beast is one that grows and develops over time. It’s ultimately a beautiful story, with a likeable heroine and intelligent storytelling.

A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J Maas

Sarah J Maas is a YA author I’ve been enjoying a lot lately. Her books are massive, epic tomes with strong, kickass female protagonists. This series starts off with a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and they keep getting better from there.

Alice by Christina Henry

Alice in Wonderland isn’t technically a fairytale, but I couldn’t leave this little gem off the list. Alice is set in a dark, strange land, where people are cruel and merciless. You won’t find whimsy here; instead, you find Alice locked in an asylum, triggered by the brutal death of a friend after a trip to a forbidden part of town years before. Hatter  is a man with his own problems; imprisoned after losing his mind, Hatter falls for Alice and helps her on her journey through Wonderland. It’s disturbing and twisted, but also full of adventure, wonder, love, and heroism.

The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

The Woodcutter is a melting pot of fairytales. Set in a realm where the fairytales we’ve grown up with are all true, the Woodcutter is the keeper of the peace between the Twelve Kingdoms. When Cinderella is murdered, the Woodkeeper must find who killed her before others meet the same grisly end. The world is rich and vibrant, and full of amazing stories from around the world.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Another Beauty and the Beast retelling, beautifully rendered. Again, this one was set in ancient Ireland. Caitrin is a scribe, intelligent and skilled, and she’s on the run from deplorable family members when she seeks work at Anulan’s castle. He has spent years isolated from the outside world due to a physical deformity and some supernatural goings on, and Caitrin quickly forms a bond with him. The atmosphere is appropriately gloomy, and the love story powerful, yet understated.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Have you ever wondered what happens to the children who disappear into fairytale worlds and yet come back at the end? This deceptively short book delves into what those children have to deal with once they’re back home, with one of the main characters providing a boarding school to help them cope. It’s gorgeously written and imagined, with whole new worlds (both fantastically whimsical and terrifyingly dark) opened up. If you’ve ever wanted to fall into Wonderland, open a wardrobe into Narnia, or run through a brick wall to Platform 9 and 3/4, this is the book for you.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Based on Russian folktales, this glorious book is dark and magical. It evokes a wintery feel, where you feel the impulse to set in a comfy chair by the fireside, blanket in your lap, while you read into the wee hours. Vasilisa loves the tales her nurse tells her by the fire – particularly that of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon who appears in the night to steal souls. Vasilisa‘s father’s new wife is a devoutly Christian woman who refuses to adhere to the old ways, and so crops begin to fail and misfortune stalks the village. It’s up to Vasilisa to protect her home and her family, while everyone else turns away.

Do you have a favourite retold fairytale? I would love to find new recommendations!

 

 

The glorious freedom of travel

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this innate  burning desire to travel. To experience places I’ve never been, to do things I’ve never done. To go far outside what’s comfortable and familiar, and discover the new and the wonderful. It’s a joyous kind of freedom, the ability to travel, that’s only really a relatively new phenomenon when it comes to human beings.

But I think it’s about more than simply travelling to a new place – it’s a journey, and it involves learning so much about yourself that you’d otherwise never know. It’s about discovery, sure – the discovery of places, cities, history, and geography, but it’s also about self. You learn so much about who you are and what makes you you while travelling, since you’re put in different situations with different people and in places you’re unfamiliar with. You’re given the freedom to put the day to day bullshit aside and just learn to be you. To put it simply, to travel is to learn.

I think one of the most important lessons travel can teach you is to be true to yourself and the people you’re travelling with, and if you don’t think you can do that, you shouldn’t be travelling with them. You also have to adapt quickly and wear so many different hats. I’ve learned how to be a photographer, a cartographer, a budgeter, a planner, a life coach, a list maker, and so many other things. I’ve learned about compromise, about the value of honest, open discussion, and the beauty of simplicity.

On a recent trip to the UK, Ireland and Paris with my mum, I learned that generational gaps can be even more pronounced when travelling. I love to take a map and just walk a city, since it allows you to stumble upon tiny worlds known only by locals that are often overlooked by tour guides or pamphlets. You can get to the heart of a place, and discover what it is that makes people fall in love with it. This is made harder by taking your mother who has 30 years on you and tires much more easily. The lesson there? Next time I travel with mum, we’ll do a river cruise.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Title: The Book of Speculation

Author: Erika Swyler

Page number: 339 pages

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Book of Speculation is beautifully told, and everything magical realism should be. At its heart is a travelling carnival from 18th century America, the quirky group of performers who make up it’s ‘family’, and the carnival book lead performer Peabody writes along the way.

300 years later, an antique book dealer stumbles across Peabody’s tome and sends it to Simon Watson, librarian, who is related to the carnival’s Wild Boy/Seer and Mermaid. What follows its a sad, beautiful tale involving a curse and a long line of women who die on the exact same day, in the exact same way.

I enjoyed the dual timelines and the juxtaposition between Simon’s modern way of thinking and Amos/the Wild Boy’s coming of age. Their attempts to look after the women they love while trying to do the right thing were admirable. I also loved the subtle fantasy and the nods to Russian mythology. The insight into travelling carnivals and the unique gifts possessed by the people who worked in them was fascinating, although it felt like a rather dark and exclusive world to live in.

The Red Queen – Obernewtyn Cronicles Book 7

Title: The Red Queen (Obernewtyn Chronicles)

Author: Isobelle Carmody

Page numbers: 1120 pages

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

I have waited 16 years for the conclusion to this amazing story, and it did not disappoint. This is the series that got me on to epic fantasy – without Obernewtyn, I’d probably be a very different reader today. I have loved Elspeth, Rushton, Dameon and Matthew particularly since that first book when I was 14, and to finally come to the end of all of their stories is both heartbreaking and .. well, actually, just heartbreaking really. I haven’t cried so much while reading a book in years.

I’m not even sure if you could call it a happy ending. All of the plot threads that Isobelle had been weaving for decades came to neat ends, but there is still so much that she could have explained. There’s so much left up to our imaginations. And there’s a huge message throughout the entire saga that people should definitely heed. If you’ve been put off by the years of silence from the author, don’t be. It’s finally finished. Start at the beginning, you won’t regret it.