Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NaNoWriMo: The Madness of Writing

I am a crap writer. 

My spelling is appalling, my grammar even worse and I break every writing rule there is and probably alot more. Before I started writing I never knew there were so many rules.  Passive voice, active voice.  Past tense, present tense.  Show, not tell.  Gerunds...


It's enough to make you want to throw the bloody manuscript out the window or take up drinking or eat vast amounts of chocolate.

Mmm, tempting...

Sadly none of these things are an option because a) I write and store everything on my laptop so throwing it out of the window is sooo not a good idea b) I don't like alcohol and c) though I may love chocolate it is not something that will make my writing any better, however much I wish it was so.

Not writing isn't an option either as my head is constantly filled with stories.

Finding out I'm a crap writer is, in truth, a little sad and disheartening.  Then again I am in surprisingly good company.  Dan Brown, Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts, J K Rowling and many others have all been accused of being crap or hack writers.  

And though I don't consider myself nearly as good as them if I can write something that is at least half as good and is enjoyed by others I'd be pretty happy.

I'll certainly be getting plenty of practice.  50,000 words over 30 days.

Why, may you ask?

Well November is the annual National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for those in the know.  And I, along with a great many others, will be taking part.

Yes I know.  It sounds like madness and I'll probably be mad by the end of it or at the very least a little bit more loopy than I normally am.

Is it the end of November yet?

PS: Gerunds - and yes I had never heard of them before either.  Google as always to the rescue...

PS Again:  Since I am busy preparing for NaNoWriMo, i.e. skiving off by not writing or reading and instead watching the latest episodes of Supernatural, Vampire Diaries, etc  I have instead borrowed from the web goddess herself, Tosca and posted some weblinks that I have come across recently in my web travels.

Happy webbing or writing or whatever the case may be.

The Weird, The Wonderful and The Downright Strange...

Abebooks Weird Room 

As you know I love bookie things so when I came across this book site that features "everything that's bizarre, odd and downright weird in books" I just had to share it.  How can you not love sites like this.

Amusing Planet

I love travel and interesting places so this website is perfect of someone like me as it combines both.  Take a look and see some of the amazing things that are on our planet. 


I love the idea of this website which offers around 200 courses that are taught at universities around the world for free.  All you have to do is enrol and pick what course you want to do.  Of course the only problem is, is that once you've finished you'll want to do another and then another...

The Blog Farm

A website featuring blogs.  Over 3900 blogs.  Wow that's alot of blogs and lot of web reading.  I think I've died and gone to heaven...


This site is addictive.  Seriously.  Once you get started it's hard to stop.  There's something here for everyone.  From the truly creative and wonderful to the very weird and strange.

Gambino is a mastermind

Last week I introduced you to my imaginary best friend Taylor Swift so this week I thought I would introduce you to my imaginary boyfriend Donald Glover.

Most of you will know Donald Glover as Troy Barnes from Community and while it is one of the best shows on TV right now he is so much more than half of ‘Troy and Abed in the Morning’.

Donald Glover started off as a staff writer for 30 Rock (the greatest show in the world) and during the three years he was there wrote some of the funniest episodes (The Fun Cooker and Episode 210). It was during his work on 30 Rock that he started his career in rap music under the stage name Childish Gambino. It started off as a joke and he would release EPs free on the Internet. After steadily gaining popularity and having his song ‘Freaks and Geeks’ in an Adidas commercial Donald signed with Glassnote Records and released his first album published onto CDs entitled ‘Camp’.

Camp is one of my favorite albums of the past few years. Lyrically it is so well written and clever. I would love to put an example of how great the lyrics are but I can’t think of any that wouldn’t offend a lot of people. His lyrics are pretty filthy. It’s awesome.

It was during the first few years of his music career Donald got the role of Troy on Community which is heading into its 4th season. The whole cast of Community is hilarious and if you feel like watching one of the funniest shows on TV make sure you check it out. It's NBC comedy at it's finest. 

In summary, Donald Glover is a genius writer and has worked on 2 of the best shows on TV while releasing a ton of good music. You should also know that Donald Glover is a babe. And that's why he is my imaginary boyfriend. Make sure you check out the Community and 30 Rock DVDs we have in the library and (if you’re an adult and not easily offended) his album Camp. They’re all amazing. You can take my word for it. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Comfort Reads

Some books are like comfort food. You're bored, or feeling down, and all you want to do is sit somewhere cosy with a plateful of cheesy lasagne. And a good book. Teen novels with a splash of magic and a good dollop of romance are my comfort food, and luckily for me there's plenty to choose from. I've read a bunch of good ones recently, so I thought I'd share them with you. Here they are
The Unquiet - Jeannine Garsee
Rinn isn't excited about moving back to her mother's hometown. It's cold, it's in the middle of nowhere, and a ghost may be haunting the school. Fortunately, there's a cute boy-next-door, and she makes friends pretty quickly. But soon she has to figure out whether the ghost is real, or if the voices in her head are back. 
Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater
Since surviving a wolf attack as a child, Grace has been…well, her friends would say obsessed with the yellow-eyed wolf who spends every winter watching her. Every summer she misses him, and he, as a human, can't work up the courage to talk to her. That's until there's another attack, the town seeks revenge, and a yellow-eyed boy with a bullet wound turns up on her doorstep.
Team Human - Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan
Mel might live in a town founded by vampires, but she isn't terribly fond of the undead. She's quite happy considering them as an abstract concept, and if they just stayed that way everything would be fine. But her best friend, a dreamy romantic with a taste for history and poetry, is falling for the new boy at school - a 160 year old vampire, and Mel is determined to put a stop to their foolish romance, whatever it takes. But because Mel has a habit of taking care of things, she's also volunteered to look into the mysterious disappearance of her other friend's father, and then there's the good-looking wannabe vampire that she definitely (maybe) doesn't want to get involved with...
Unspoken - Sarah Rees Brennan
Kami Glass is clever, ambitious, and maybe just a little insane. After all, people usually leave their imaginary friends behind with childhood, don't they? At the start of the new school year, Kami's biggest concern is reviving the school newspaper, but life in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale is about to get weirder, as the mysterious Lynburn family returns to their manor on the hill. All sorts of dark secrets are waiting for an aspiring investigative journalist to sniff them out, and it turns out that Kami's imaginary friend may be a little more real than everyone thought.

A cadaver a day keeps the boredom away

So you're getting another list of crime and suspense novels to read. Does this, in fact, suggest I may be going away on holiday and looking for an easy topic? Or simply that I like crime and felt it was time for another one?

It's a mystery...

Sorry to those of you who don't read the genre, but as Death himself likes to say: "THERE'S NO JUSTICE, THERE'S JUST ME." Thanks, Terry Pratchett.

Not My Blood - Barbara Cleverly
Scotland Yard Detective Joe Sandilands is caught off guard one night in 1933 by a phone call from a distressed boy named Jackie Drummond, who just might be the illegitimate son Joe never knew he had. Jackie is in trouble at his Sussex boarding school, where a teacher has been murdered. When Joe gets himself assigned to the investigation, he learns the boarding school case is more complicated than it appears: a frightening number of boys, all from wealthy families, have gone missing over the school's history, and by some coincidence none of the families have followed up on their sons' whereabouts.

Goddess of Death - Roy Lewis
Bored by his desk job in Northumberland, Arnold Landon welcomes the opportunity to join a group of criminal-hunters who specialise in tracing artefacts and looted antiques. Led by the formidable Carmela Cacciatore, Landon sets off on the trail of an ancient bronze statuette of Artemis the Huntress, part of a hoard looted first by the Nazis and then by Stalin's trophy brigade. As Arnold and Carmela dig deeper they are faced with the murder of an informant and as further killings pile up their efforts are frustrated. As they uncover a history of greed, corruption, murder and betrayal the long arm of revenge reaches out to kill once again.

Veronica Britton - Niall Boyce
As a fan of the late Diana Wynne Jones, this appeals to me. A Victorian private detective, Veronica Britton specialises in tricky situations that occur in time as well as space. Time travel is controlled by the Ministry, but they have now taken a sudden interest in Veronica. She uncovers a series of mysteries that all seem strangely interconnected. Steampunk and Doctor Who fans may well enjoy.

Invisible Murder - Joyce Cato
One for cosy fans. When travelling cook Jenny Starling starts her new job for the aristocracy living in a genuine castle, she is thrilled. She envisions nothing more arduous than days spent preparing her beloved recipes. But when a member of staff is murdered, it seems the reluctant sleuth must once again turn her energies towards helping the police.

Rollover - James Raven
It's a rollover week on the National Lottery and the jackpot is a whopping £18 million. Journalist Vince Mayo has picked all six numbers, but before he can celebrate his spectacular win he's battered to death at his home. In a hellish chain of events, Mayo's friend and fellow journalist, Danny Cain, is forced to go on the run when the police suspect him of the murder. With Danny Cain still alive, and knowing the truth, the ticket can't be cashed and the killers want their money, no matter what it takes. For Danny and his terrified family the odds of survival are stacked against them.

Shadows of Doubt - Evan G. Andrew
A Regency mystery by a New Zealand author, second in a series which follows the fortunes of Julia Farraday. Following the death of her great uncle, Julia receives an invitation to attend a house-party at Sharnborough, ancestral home of her friend Philip Stratton. There she meets a pair of charming people with French connections. Julia gets caught up in a world of conspiracy and intrigue, while her heart becomes caught shadows of doubt, between the safe and familiar, and the dangers of the unknown.

The Beautiful Mystery - Louise Penny
When the renowned choir director of a secretive monastery is murdered, the monks are forced to admit the first outsiders to their cloister - Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Surete du Quebec. They soon discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.

The Two - Will Carver
Five lie dead, brutally murdered - the first taken on the night of Halloween. As autumn bleeds into winter, more ritualistic murders are discovered. Detective January David must battle his demons, for in his mind lies the clue to stopping a ruthless murderer. But his worst nightmares have literally come true when he discovers there's not one but two twisted killers on the loose...

Dark Passage - Frances Burke
After a devastating fall from high society into dire poverty, Nicola Redmond battles to support her mother and herself during the 1890s Depression in Australia. Spurning the 'charity' of the man who has claimed her father's estate, Nicola joins the battle for the empowerment of the women slaving in factories under dreadful conditions, or forced by starvation to sell themselves on the streets. When her dearest friend, Rose Basevi, meets a degrading death in a back alley, Nicola vows to avenge her. Denying her growing love for a man she cannot trust, she uses him and his two rivals: a charismatic union organizer, and a cool English detective in charge of the murder investigation. Setting herself up as bait, she plunges deep into the underbelly of the city knowing that one of these three men is stalking her - that one of them is a heartless killer...

Hemlock - Kathleen Peacock
One for teen fiction aficionados...Mackenzie and Amy were best friends. Until Amy was brutally murdered. Since then, Mac is being haunted by Amy in her dreams, and an extremist group called the Trackers has come to Hemlock to hunt down the killer: a white werewolf. Lupine Syndrome - the werewolf virus - is on the rise across the country. Many of the infected try to hide their symptoms, but bloodlust is not easy to control and the Trackers are determined to stop them at any cost. Unwilling to work with the brutal Trackers, but desperately wanting to put an end to her nightmares, Mac decides to investigate Amy's murder herself. But the deeper she delves into the mystery behind Amy's death, the more secrets she discovers lurking in the shadows of Hemlock.

Seventy Times Seven - John Gordon Sinclair

Monday, 29 October 2012

The tale of vegan ultrarunner

I've just finished Eat & Run : my unlikely journey ultramarathon greatness by Scott Jurek based on a friend's recommendation.

Talk about inspiring! Jurek is a vegan who runs ultramarathons (that is, running the equivalent of several marathons back-to-back), covering distances on foot that most of us only dream of.

Now I'm not an ultrarunner by any stretch, but I am fascinated & enthused by the stories Scott shares about how he got to where he is today - transforming his meat & potato childhood to adult veganism, his friendships & rivalry with other ultrarunners, his commitment to being the best he can be in every circumstance.

His writing style, his stories, his honesty, his humour - it makes you want to get out there & just go for it, in whatever field your chosen 'it' is. Be the best that you can.

So I'm off to re-read Born to run by Chris McDougall, and to get my hands on a copy of Lisa Tamati's Running Hot about her experience of the Badwater Ultramarathon through Death Valley. Since it's unlikely that I'll ever run an ultramarathon, then I am quite satisfied to live vicariously through others.

If you are needing inspiration to dust off your running shoes, then I'd encourage you to read these books, and then get out there & get running!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Top 5 most recent books with a "Warning! Sexually Explicit Content" sticker to cross my desk

Steamy books. I read 'em. On purpose, even. So steamy some of them even come with a big sticker slapped across the front that reads: "Warning! Sexually Explicit Content." It always gives me a bit of a giggle because, really, one has only to look at the cover to know that it's an erotic romance. What other kind of explanation could there be for a fantastic (if somewhat overposed) pair of abs (minus head, of course, because the 'headless hero' could be any man - except, perhaps, any man I know) with a pair of handcuffs draped across his chest? I'm not sure about anybody else, but this is a good enough clue that lets me know that Thomas the Tank Engine this is not. And so I give you the 5 most recent steamy romance books I've got on my desk. (And that reminds me, when I was in Toronto I saw many women reading erotic romances on subways and buses - quite uncaring. What's even better is that nobody else on public transport cared at all or raised an eyebrow. I adored Toronto just for that alone).

Thursday, 25 October 2012

'Red' by Taylor Swift

I don’t care what anybody says, I love Taylor Swift and I kind of wish we were best friends. Actually in my mind we are best friends she just doesn't know it yet. Her new album ‘Red’ was released on Tuesday and I was pretty excited so I thought in celebration I would excitedly tell you about how much I love this record.

The number one reason you should listen to it? The song ‘Everything Has Changed’ featuring Ed Sheeran. IT’S SO GOOD! Ed is a capital G genius and Taylor is an amazing song writer. It’s musical heaven! There’s also a song called ‘The Last Time’ with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol and it is delicious.

Make sure you listen to ‘Treacherous’ and ‘Begin Again’ they’re easily two of the best songs on the album and the song ‘All Too Well’ which includes the line ‘you called me up again just to break me like a promise. So casually cruel in the name of being honest’ which makes me melt inside it’s so good. And for all of those young men and women who are 22 please turn on ‘22’ as loud as you can and dance around your living room. I’m too old and it breaks my heart a little bit.

So I know that some of you are skeptical after hearing ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together.’ I know it’s a little bit pop-tastic for some people and I get that, I really do but please don’t give up on it yet okay? She’s my best friend*. It’s such a fun album so please get it out from your local library ASAP. Here's the link to the catalogue all ready for you. 

*I’m 90% kidding. 

A Feast of Food

I love looking at cookbooks.  Which will come as a surprise to those that know me as cooking is not something that is my forte..

Not that I can't cook.   

My Moroccan soup always comes out good (well 99.9 % of the time) and I have a couple of other recipes that never seem to fail me but that is about my limit.

It's fortunate then that I have a partner who is more than happy to undertake the cooking for the two of us.  Something that he is pretty damn good at.  Just between you and me, he makes the best omelette, filled with smoked chicken and Camembert .  It is in a word (make that three), to die for.

It's kind of surprising that I'm not much of a cook as my mum is the best cook.  As a kid I was treated to an array of delicious food that just made your mouth water and going home to my mum's cooking is something that I still look forward today.  Somehow the cooking gene bi-passed me along with being able to sew (in word I can't - not even a straight line, which just about caused my high school Home Economics teacher to cry in despair).

The fact that my cooking is minimal to say the least doesn't mean that I don't appreciate those that can and do well.  As always happens at this time of year, a huge range of cookbooks are being released in time for that perfect Christmas present idea.  The only problem is, is deciding which one...

True blood : eats, drinks, and bites from Bon Temps by Gianna Sobol and Alan Ball.

""True Blood," HBO's blockbuster paranormal drama, enthralls a diverse audience of 13 million viewers (and counting). Here are 85 recipes from unforgettable scenes, each entertainingly introduced by the show's most compelling characters"

Yep, they had to do it, a True Blood cookbook.  Of course it's not the first time a TV show has produced a cookbook.  There's a Downton Abbey cookbook. a Game of Thrones cookbook and even - dare I say it - a Twilight cookbook.  What will they think of next?

"In this book you will find more than 100 mouth-watering recipes that are wonderfully quick and easy to make and bursting with flavour."

Quick and easy and bursting with flavour... mmm sounds like my kind of cookbook.

Lorraine Pascale certainly looks please with herself.  Then again if I was on the front cover of a book I'll probably look pretty happy too - either that or looking like a terrified psycho...

Ruth Pretty cooks at home   by Ruth Pretty.

"In Ruth Pretty Cooks at Home, Ruth shares stylish cooking ideas, entertaining secrets and more than 100 delectable recipes so you too can cook to impress at home."

Writer of the food column for the Dominion Post for the past 12 years as well as numerous books, Ruth Petty has a reputation as one of New Zealand's best loved cooks and her latest book reinforces why.

Simple pleasures : the free range cook  by Annabel Langbein.

"In more than 200 delicious recipes,  Annabel draws on a global palette of flavours and her signature FridgeFixings to create dishes that are big on flavour while making the most of fresh seasonal produce."

Having tried some of her recipes from her previous bestselling book 'The Free Range Cook' (courtesy of my Mum) I have to say she knows what she's doing.  This sequel is just as popular - going by the holds list on the library catalogue.

Nigellissima : instant Italian inspiration  by Nigella Lawson.

"Italian food has colonised the world. The author shows us how and why in over 100 delicious dishes - from telephone-cord pasta with Sicilian pesto to the crustless Meatzza, from Sardinian couscous to Venetian stew, from penne to papardelle, from ragu to risotto, from Italian apple pie and no-churn ices to panna cotta and sambuca kisses."

Out of all the celebrity cooks around Nigella is my personal favourite.  Her utter love for food is contagious and it makes watching her cook a joy. 

The book club cookbook : recipes and food for thought from your book club's favorite books and authors by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp.

"Whether it's Roman punch with The Age of Innocence, Sabzi Challow and lamb with The Kite Runner, or ambrosia with To Kill a Mockingbird, nothing spices up a book club meeting like great eats. Featuring recipes and discussion ideas for one hundred popular club selections, this cookbook guides readers in selecting and preparing culinary masterpieces that blend perfectly with the literary masterpieces their club is reading."

A cookbook that is is also about books!  For a foodie and bookie like me this is my idea of heaven.

Eat more of what you love / by Marlene Koch
"Koch delivers with over 200 brand-new super satisfying guilt-free recipes (under 350 calories!) that everyone will love--from mile high meatloaf and chicken fried steak with cream gravy to stuffed black and blue steak burgers to pizza pasta pie and red velvet cupcake."

Guilt free recipes are my kind of food. My only wish is that someone would come up a recipe for guilt free chocolate, then I could eat as much as I like and never worry about gaining a pound.

Salads : beyond the bowl : extraordinary recipes for everyday eating by Mindy Fox.

"Presents a collection of salad recipes that star ingredients ranging from fruits and vegetables to legumes, meat, and fish, and offers advice on tossing the perfect salad."

I love salads.  Yes I know it's kind of weird but what can I say.  Salads are the best, not only are they good for you and taste great but there's no cooking involved.  It's the perfect meal for me, because how can you go wrong with a salad...

"Whether you're looking for a show-stopping dessert for your Christmas dinner feast, an easy family-favorite homemade pizza for a busy weeknight, or a comforting side dish to add the perfect touch, you're sure to find the ideal recipe for any occasion throughout the year."

You knew I had to include at least one Christmas cookbook.  After all it's only 2 months today before Christmas is upon us. 

In the meantime all those Christmas chefs and cooks out there will be looking for inspiration.  Hopefully this book (or any of the others listed above) will have something that will appeal.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Time travel on a budget

I've often dreamed of travelling back in time and meeting some of my favourite historical characters. As well as having the pleasure of conversing with the most interesting people in history (Elizabeth I, Jane Austen and Voltaire, to name a few), you'd come across as awfully clever. "The New World? Why yes, I've been there twice...Not a patch on the Antipodes, you know."

However, lacking the money to pay for a trip on the Virgin time and space shuttle, I do the next best thing - read stuff about history.

For me, this often comes down to historical crime fiction, but of course there are other genres out there. If you have an interest in history, this list of new and forthcoming novels might just tickle your fancy.

The Copper Sign - Katia Fox
England 1161: Ellen, a blacksmith’s daughter, wants to become a swordsmith, but for a girl this is unimaginable. She disguises herself as a boy and runs away to accompany a famous swordsmith to Normandy, where the sons of the greatest barons are trained to be knights. As "Alan", she learns the trade and becomes familiar with court life. When she falls in love with Guillaume, a young nobleman, she can’t divulge her secret for fear it will endanger her dream of fame and recognition. Across countries and time, Ellen struggles to achieve her dream and find her place, always in fear that Thibault, an evil knight who tracks her every move, waits around the corner.

Under the Cherry Blossom - Maya Healy
Hana and Kimi are delighted when their heroic uncle, Hidehira, arrives at their palace, along with his dashing army of Samurai soldiers. He is their father's right hand man, who helps him govern the land on behalf of the Shogun. So when Hidehira and his army slaughter their father and elder brothers, it is a harrowing betrayal. As the palace burns around them, Hana and Kimi have to fight for their very survival. Now the whole country is searching for them - and anyone who helps them will be put to death. The girls must disguise themselves and find somewhere to hide, while working to avenge the brutal wrongs done to their family...Book one of four.

The Stockholm Octavo - Karen Engelmann
18th-century Stockholm. Emil Larsson is a drinker, card player and contented bachelor until he is told that his position at the Office of Excise and Customs depends on his settling down and finding a wife. Mrs Sparrow, proprietor of an exclusive gaming house and fortune teller, offers to lay an Octavo for him - a form of cartomancy which can divine his future if he can find the eight individuals who can help him realise his vision. But quickly matters spiral out of Emil's control. No longer just a game of the heart, collecting his Eight is now crucial to pulling his country back from the brink of rebellion and chaos.

Death's Door - James R. Benn
When Lieutenant Billy Boyle's girlfriend, British spy Diana Seaton, is captured in the Vatican, he insists on being assigned to a local murder investigation. An American monsignor has been murdered at the foot of Death's Door, one of the five entrances to Saint Peter's Basilica. The fact that the Vatican is neutral territory in German-occupied Rome is only one of the obstacles Billy must overcome, including how to get in. He must navigate Vatican politics and personalities - pro-Allied, pro-Nazi, and steadfastly neutral - to learn the truth about the murdered monsignor. And just a short walk from the Vatican is the Regina Coeli prison, where Diana is being held...

The King's Spy - Andrew Swanston
Summer, 1643. England is consumed by civil war. Quiet bookseller Thomas lives in a rural village with his widowed sister and her two daughters. Until a stranger knocks on Thomas's door one night and informs him that the king's cryptographer has died. Aware of Thomas' background as a mathematician and expert in codes and ciphers, the king has summoned him to his court in Oxford. It is only once Thomas arrives, however, that he learns that his predecessor was murdered. Murder follows murder. And when a vital message encrypted with a notoriously unbreakable cipher is intercepted, he must decipher it to reveal the king's betrayer and prevent the violent death that defeat will surely bring.

Nine for the Devil - Mary Reed
The year is 548 and Empress Theodora is dead of disease. Or so everyone in Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire, believes. Everyone except Emperor Justinian, who orders John, his Lord Chamberlain, to find her murderer or suffer the consequences.

The Crown - Nancy Bilyeau
When Joanna Stafford, a young novice, learns her cousin is about to be executed for rebelling against Henry VIII, she runs away from Dartford Priory. But when she and her father are arrested and sent to the Tower of London, she finds herself a pawn in a deadly power struggle. Those closest to the throne are locked in a fight against those desperate to save England's monasteries. Joanna and a troubled young friar, Brother Edmund, are sent to find a hidden relic believed to possess a mystical power that has slain three Englishmen of royal blood in the last 300 years. One that traces all the way back to Golgotha and the Passion. Joanna must determine how far she is willing to go to protect her life and her country.

The Red Sea - William Napier
1571. For hundreds of years the Ottoman Empire has ruled the seas. But the seas are only a gateway to the lands they covet beyond. The armies of the Turk are picking off colonies and small islands, and if the Mediterranean falls, then finally perhaps the balance of power between crescent and cross will tip...Now, as the sun rises on one October day, history will be written in blood. Countries all over western Europe have sent ships and men. Caught up in it are Hodge and Ingoldsby - two young English adventurers who have survived the siege of Malta and are already living on borrowed time. Now, it seems the debt must be repaid.

The Mirrored World - Debra Dean
Born to a noble Russian family, Xenia falls in love with and marries Andrei, a soldier and singer in the Empress's choir. But then a tragic vision comes true, and a shattered Xenia descends into grief. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving all her money and possessions to the poor. Then she mysteriously vanishes. Years later, dressed in the tatters of her husband's uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St Petersburg. Revered as a soothsayer and healer, she is feared by the new Empress, Catherine. In this tale, Dean reimagines the intriguing life of Xenia of St Petersburg, a patron saint of her city and one of Russia's most mysterious and beloved holy figures.

Shadows on the Nile - Kate Furnivall
1932, London. 27-year-old Jessica Kenton's stable life is torn apart when her younger brother, Timothy, vanishes. Vowing to find him, she follows Timothy's trail to the lush and exotic lands of Egypt, but she doesn't expect the danger she is confronted with. There are powerful people who do not want her brother found, and not everything is as it seems. There is also a love waiting that will tilt her world on its axis. By the author of The Russian Concubine.

And if none of that is quite enough, you may have to try this:

Build Your Own Time Machine - Brian Clegg
Brian Clegg provides an understanding of what time is and how it can be manipulated. He explores the remarkable possibilities of real time travel that emerge from quantum entanglement, superluminal speeds, neutron star cylinders and wormholes in space. With the fascinating paradoxes of time travel echoing in our minds will we realize that travel into the future might never be possible? Or will we realize there is no limit on what can be achieved, and take on this ultimate challenge? Only time will tell.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Change the way you make a living with The $100 Start-up

Feeling like you need a change? Have a great idea but not sure how to make it a reality? Need a kick-start to get your project off the ground? Want to know how other people did it?

I've been following Chris Guillebeau's blog for a number of years now, and I can whole heartedly recommend his first book The Art of Non-Conformity if you want to be inspired to live the life you truly want.

He's has written a great new book, The $100 Start-up, with the subtitle "reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love, and create a new future".

Sounds too easy doesn't it?

This definitely isn't a book that gives you all the answers on a plate, and it's certainly not a case of "do this exactly, you'll make a fortune". There isn't a magic step-by-step formula, 'cos if there was, wouldn't we all be millionaires by now?

What this book does is show you what other people have achieved it, how they turned modest start-up funding (in many cases less than $100) into a business turning over $US50,000 per annum.

After identifying 1,500 individuals who have started up successful businesses, Chris has focused on 50 people who've made it happen, and he explains clearly how they made it a reality to reinvent the way they make a living. He talks numbers, he talks strategies, and he pulls no punches about how hard it can be, but he also reminds you that anything is truly possible. The underlying business message is very clear though, if you aren't making money, then it isn't a business, it's a hobby.

So could you turn your hobby into a profitable business? Could you make the leap to being your own boss? Do you want to know how the other people made it happen?

Read this book. It could change your life.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Armageddon: A Fangirly Moment

You'll be forgiven for thinking that I'm talking about the end of the world since December the 21st 2012  will soon be upon us, but though it might be a squealy moment for some if it does turn out to be the end of the world, it's not quite the event that I had in mind. 

What I am talking about is far more fangirly; that is the annual Armageddon Sci-fi Expo that is on in Auckland this weekend.

It will, of course, come as no surprise that I’ll be attending, after all how can any self respecting SyfyGirl not go to what is one of the biggest Sci-fi events in New Zealand; the event that I look forward to and circle on my calendar every year.

Now I know what you are thinking.  

She's one of those.  

One of those strange people who wears the funny costume, speaks in strange tongues and knows all the words to her favourite show.  Okay I'll give you that one, though I don't know all the words - just some - honest... and I definitely don't know any Klingon nor have I ever worn a costume, funny or otherwise but if I did well that's okay too.  Fans of Sci-fi come in all shapes and sizes and ages, and that's part of the fun of going to Armageddon.  It gives you a chance to revel in your geekiness in however you want.

Being a geek has never been so cool.

Wiffle lever to full! : daleks, death stars and dreamy-eyed nostalgia at the strangest sci-fi conventions by Bob Fischer.

If you've ever wondered what exactly goes on at Sci-fi conventions then look no further.

Bob Fischer dives head first into what is seen as a strange and mysterious world when one summer he travels around the UK attending  a huge array of Sci-fi conventions.  From Doctor Who to Blakes 7 he covers them all in his search to get reacquainted with the shows he use to love.

Comic-con and the business of pop culture : what the world's wildest trade show can tell us about the future of entertainment by Rob Salkowitz. 

To fans Comic-con is the holy mecca of conventions.  Held annually in San Diego, it attracts people all over the world.  So much so that attendance has been capped at 130,000 due to the huge demand from those wanting to go.

This is an eye-opening book that looks at not only the rise of Comic-con but the good, the bad, and the downright ugly business of conventions and the entertainment industry as a whole.

Better know as the director of Super Size Me and POM Wonderful Presents, Morgan Spurlock  looks at the world of Comic-con with his latest project.

As a fan himself this accompany book to the movie is filled with photographs celebrating everything that is Comic-con.

Any book that has Sheldon on the cover has got my vote.  This guy is the master of geeks and has helped to make The Big Bang Theory the highly successful show that it is.

Covering all things geeky and things you've never even thought about; from the best shows to watch with friends to the kind of players you'll meet while playing dungeon and dragons to the threat level of computers when they finally do become self aware and want to kill you, this is the book to help you get in touch with your inner geek.

Most people tend to forget that girls can be geeks too and that geekdom isn't just about a love of Sci-fi or fantasy or comics.  There are bookworms and music fans and a whole world of geeky lifestyles and this book celebrates them all in a collection of essays that focuses on an often over-looked phenomenon - the girl geek.
Who knew there were so many geeks in the world.
This TV show has probably done more for geeks, geekiness and everything that goes with it than anything else.

And one of the reasons it has been so successful is that nearly everyone who watches can relate to what is portrayed.

It is a love letter not only to fans of Sci-fi and gaming and comics but to anyone who has ever felt awkward or nervous or out of place in the world.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

It's all in the new idea

No, not the magazine (possessor of one of the most laughably misleading titles in existence). I speak of the Holy Grail of publishing - the High Concept. This is something totally original, the sort of plot outline that will make you go: "WHY has no one thought of that before?"

They're precious for being so very rare, but I have compiled a list of my favourites from the past couple of years. If you think you've read it all, try these. Sorry about all the depressingly greyscale covers. At least the ideas are fresh. Please suggest your own for the benefit of other readers!

Before I Go to Sleep - S. J. Watson
A woman wakes up with no recollection of who she is, or who the man lying beside her is. He says he is her husband, Ben, and she has a notebook confirming everything that happened before a mysterious trauma took her memory. She meets a psychiatrist regularly to attempt to recapture her past and just what happened that night. However, who is telling her the truth? There's a note in her diary, you see: "Don't trust Ben".  If that doesn't grab you, you don't like mysteries.

Every Day - David Levithan
One for teens and adults alike. Every morning A wakes in a different person's body, in a different person's life, learning over the years to never get too attached. It's all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with, day in, day out, day after day. A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day.

Creepy Carrots - Aaron Reynolds
I couldn't resist this one - a picture book with some angry monster carrots stalking a greedy bunny with a taste for their pals. I particularly like the carrot on the right...Perhaps Picture Book Noir is the next new genre. Don't know if it will inspire children to eat their veges, though.

The Boy Who Could See Demons - Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Continuing the vege theme, Alex Broccoli is ten years old, likes onions on toast, and can balance on the back legs of his chair for fourteen minutes. His best friend is a 9000-year-old demon called Ruen. When his depressive mother attempts suicide yet again, Alex meets child psychiatrist Anya. Still bearing the scars of her own daughter's battle with schizophrenia, Anya fears for Alex's mental health and attempts to convince him that Ruen doesn't exist. But as she runs out of medical proof for many of Alex's claims, she is faced with a question: does Alex suffer from schizophrenia, or can he really see demons?

The Rook - Daniel O'Malley
Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a park with no recollection of who she is, and a letter in her hand. Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her. She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own. In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined. Cool.

The Last Policeman - Ben H. Winters
I was really intrigued by this one - a policeman who's been newly promoted to detective because all his colleagues are resigning or throwing themselves off bridges in droves. An asteroid is going to hit Earth in six months, bringing with it the end of the world. No one except Hank Palace can be bothered investigating suicides any more, but there's something about this latest one he just can't let go of. Was it really a suicide? Who would murder someone who'll be dead in six months anyway? The first in what promises to be a great trilogy.

The Corpse-Rat King - Lee Battersby
Marius dos Hellespont and his apprentice, Gerd, are professional looters of battlefields. When they stumble upon the corpse of the King of Scorby and Gerd is killed, Marius is mistaken for the monarch by one of the dead soldiers and is transported down to the Kingdom of the Dead. The dead need a King--the King is God's representative, and someone needs to remind God where they are. Marius is banished to the surface with one message: if he wants to recover his life he must find the dead a King. Which he fully intends to do. Just as soon as he stops running.

Dominion - C. J. Sansom
I'm a huge fan of the author's Shardlake mysteries, set in Tudor England, but this is a departure into alternative history. 1952. Twelve years have passed since Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule. Churchill's Resistance is increasingly a thorn in the government's side. In a Birmingham mental hospital an incarcerated scientist, Frank Muncaster, may hold a secret that could change the balance of the world struggle for ever - but his allies are being stalked by an implacable Gestapo officer. Wheeeee!!!!

Intervention: How Humanity from the Future Has Changed Its Own Past - Alan Butler
I'd heard of aliens building the pyramids, and sharing their technologies with Leonardo da Vinci, but I'd never heard of humans beaming back in time to change the past before. Except in The Terminator. This piece of non-fiction claims that many events in history have come about through the intervention of humans from the future.

Pandaemonium - Christopher Brookmyre
This was written back in 2009, but it had such an unusual premise that I couldn't resist slotting this in. In a top-secret facility, the UK and US militaries are conducting a joint exercise. They're summoning demons, and destroying them in creative ways (such as guns loaded with holy water), preparing for a possible apocalypse. But something goes wrong. Throw in a busload of schoolkids on a school outing, and you have Brookmyre's usual mix of comedy and horror - but there's an interesting twist on this one. Are the creatures really demons, just because they're from another dimension? Or are humans the ones at fault?

Monday, 15 October 2012

More from New Zealand's remotest family

Last year I read A life on Gorge River : New Zealand's remotest family,  which is the story of Robert Long & Catherine Stewart who live in what could be considered New Zealand's most remote place. They live in a hut two days' walk south of Haast in South Westland. Robert has lived there for nearly 30 years; Catherine for 20 years and their two kids, Christian & Robin, all their lives.  

I was fascinated, intrigued, and sometimes even jealous, of this life they have carved out in such a remote place. I devoured Robert's book, drawn in by the tales of the isolation, the beauty of the landscape, the challenges of everyday life, and the satisfaction of self-reliance. 

And now I have just finished the companion volume, A Wife on Gorge River : raising New Zealand's remotest family by Catherine Stewart. This time round, Catherine gives a different and unique insight into this family's life far beyond the road end. She also shares stories from her life pre-Gorge River, which I found really interesting, to get an idea of what may have led her to fall in love and willingly move permanently to such an isolated part of New Zealand.

So here are just a few of the questions she answered for me. What is it like to be pregnant so far from anywhere? What are the challenges of schooling two kids in a such a remote place, in the pre-internet days? What happens when there isn't a doctor's surgery just a short car drive away? What is the rhythm of daily life when you are so far from the end of the road? What do you feel a hungry family of four when supplies are low and your nearest supermarket is several days walk away?

I think I have found the perfect summer read for at least one of my family members' Christmas present. And I think I may have found a unique part of New Zealand that I really want to see for myself. Walking shoes to the ready ...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Sci-fi Now: 101 Reasons Why Sc-fi Rocks!

Okay so maybe not a 101 reasons, but you get the picture.  Although I'm sure I could think of that many if a) I had the time and b) I was allowed to do a post that was 10,000 words long. 

Of course I blame it all entirely on my mother.  After all she was the one who let an impressionable 6 year old watch Doctor Who in the first place. 

Now I don't remember much about that first time except that I sat glued wide-eyed to the screen with a cushion on my lap ready to hide behind when things got scary and even then I would peep behind it, unable to resist finding out what was happening.  It was heady stuff. 

No wonder I became addicted.

From Doctor Who it was a quick leap to a multitude of other Sci-fi shows; some good and some not so good.  I watched them all and it's a love affair that has continued to grow.

If you're not a fan, you're probably reading this thinking I'm a complete wacko, which is okay, I'll leave you to watch your shows and I'll indulge in mine.

Personally I'm kind of keen on making my own Stargate out of a toaster (well they did it on the show) and landing on a world where the natives are friendly or even better, in the arms of a sexy space captain.  Unfortunately with my luck I'd probably end up with my molecules splattered across the inside of an asteroid instead.  Still there are worse ways to go. 

In the meantime I'll just have to contend with dreaming about traveling the universe and sexy space captains and re-watching my favourite shows which fortunately Auckland Libraries have got on DVD.