embracing the wonder

OK… I’m going to warn you right now that this is a bit of a long rambling post, so unless you’ve read ‘Akarnae’ or have some interest in YA fiction or fantasy, you probably want to skip this post…

This morning I finished reading Lynette Noni’s debut novel ‘Akarnae’. (It’s pronounced “ah-kar-nay”, as helpfully explained early in the book, in case you were wondering.) I first heard of ‘Akarnae’ through the author’s blog. I started following her blog last year (?) when she was in the final stages of getting her book ready for publishing and release. It was a pretty exciting time, and even more so for me because she’s a local author (same state still counts as local, right?), so I wanted to support her and buy her book when it came out.

It was released early this year, but it took me a while to get around to buying it, and then it took me another while to get around to actually reading it (too many other books in the way). But now I’ve finally finished ‘Akarnae’, so let’s get on with the review!

I haven’t read a fantasy novel since October last year (when I read ‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman), so I had another reason to be excited – especially since everyone says ‘Akarnae’ is a cross between ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Narnia’ and ‘X-men’ (which, by the way, it pretty much is). However, as I started reading it, I kind of felt like my (unintentional) break from fantasy novels was hindering my ability to let go of reality and embrace the fantasy world (or “embrace the wonder”, as the tagline for the novel goes). During the introductory few chapters, where we learn about Alex (the protagonist) and Akarnae (Hogwarts-esque academy for gifted teenagers) and Medora (the parallel world where Akarnae is), I kept thinking that everything was happening too conveniently for Alex. My brain also kept asking questions, and wanting more explanations and for things to be more logical.

Of course, in a fantasy novel, not everything is going to “make sense” exactly, but considering that ‘Akarnae’ is about a fictional world that has a link to our world, I would have liked for it to be a bit more believable (if that makes sense).

When I had a quick look on Good Reads earlier, it seemed like everyone who read ‘Akarnae’ really loved it. I started thinking that maybe I hadn’t been in the right mindset to read it …until I found one reviewer that pretty much had the same critiques as I did. Mostly it was about how Alex just instantly became friends with Jordan and Bear, who also promised keep her secret about coming from another world, and dedicated themselves to helping her settle in; and also about how she kind of just went along with everything and resigned herself to spending months in this bizarre academy while she waited for someone to send her home. I mean, if I’d found a door to Medora, as awesome as that would be, I’d be majorly freaking out (a lot more than what Alex did).

In my opinion, however, the descriptions – of people and landscapes and whatnot – were actually quite good (if a little cliched). However, I think there’s something about idyllic scenery in novels that kind of puts me off a bit (is that weird?)

Unfortunately this particular GR reviewer had only read about a quarter of the novel before deciding to abandon it. To Noni’s credit, I thought ‘Akarnae’ actually got better as it went along, particularly the second half of the novel. I kind of wonder if Noni rushed through the introductory part of the book so that she could get stuck into the action. That being said, there’s a lot of detail throughout the novel as well. I actually considered re-reading it so that I can soak up all the details, but I usually don’t re-read books (in general), so it’s probably not going to happen (unless I have to wait years for the sequel).

The only other (kind of) negative I’d add is that the writing style didn’t seem very refined. However, if you go from reading Irving and Marquez to reading YAF, you’re probably going to notice some disparity in writing style… I will say, though, that her writing generally flowed quite well, so it was really easy to just keep reading and reading (particularly the second half!)

Since I followed Noni’s blog before I read her book, I also wonder if that biased my opinion. On one hand, I think I was more likely to enjoy reading it because Noni actually comes across as a genuinely awesome, yet humble person on her blog. Conversely, being aware of this potential bias, I might have subconsciously tried to counteract it by being hyper-critical about her novel. I’m not entirely sure which way it went in the end.

Speaking of ends, I really liked how ‘Akarnae’ ended. Everything clicked into place and everything made sense. It does well as a stand-alone novel, but there are enough hints and teasers to make me want to read more. On top of that, I kind of get the feeling that Noni has a bit of a crazy imagination (in a good way, of course), so I’m quite interested in seeing where she takes Alex next.

wisdom from the maths classroom

One of the greatest lessons I ever learnt in high school was in a junior maths class. It didn’t actually have anything to do with maths – well, not really, but there’s fractions involved so maybe that counts (?)

Anyway, this was a lesson that I hadn’t expected to have applications outside of class or school, but it surprisingly stuck with me all this time, even beyond university. The reason I’ve been thinking about it recently is actually mostly because of stuff that I’ve read on other blogs (and also stuff from real-life conversations too, I suppose), so I thought it’d be quite fitting to share that lesson here.

I can’t remember if this was in grade 8 or 9, but it was one of the first lessons of the semester (probably the very first). The teacher was telling us a bit about how he runs his classes and all that sort of thing, and he said something to this effect:

“If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask it because chances are that at least a third of the class have the same question.”
– Mr B., circa 2003 (?) (OMG has it really been that long??)

He was one of those “there are no silly questions” kind of teachers, but he’d still give you a weird look if you asked an obviously silly question (he’d still answer it, of course). Looking back on it, I reckon it’s kind of funny how this teacher, who was actually kind of intimidating, turned out to be amongst my favourite and most memorable teachers. He’d actually give us pep talks and advice like the gem I’m (supposed to be) writing this post about. I don’t remember him being overly expressive (I just remember him being a pretty serious sort of guy) but you could tell that he wanted us students to do well in class and in life.

Back to the quote/lesson and how it relates to life now: I’ve come to realise that people sometimes think that they are alone in their problems, but this is rarely the case. Other people might not be going through the exact same thing, but they’ve probably had the same anxieties or the same stressors or the same burdens. When I’m reading other blogs, and understanding what someone is writing about because I’ve experienced that before, or perhaps reading the comments and seeing that even one other person is able to relate – it’s quite uplifting.

And, in a way, it’s especially true for something like Post Secret or Deep Dark Fears, because they’re things that people probably don’t openly share with others – even close friends or relatives – and yet they want to share that secret or that fear with the world. And then if someone else comes along and see what they’ve shared, and they realise that they’ve experienced the same thing, or felt the same way about something, then hopefully they don’t feel so bad about it.

I reckon the same is true of positive experiences and emotions. That’s when laughter becomes contagious and smiles become infectious, right?

Can't remember where I got this pic from (I think it was emailed to me) but it's been saved on my computer for YEARS. If anyone recognises the comic, please let me know!

Can’t remember where I got this pic from (I think it was emailed to me) but it’s been saved on my computer for YEARS. If anyone recognises the comic, please let me know!

People work through problems in different ways, and that’s ok, but sometimes maybe just knowing that there’s someone out there who understands is all that is needed.

universal

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that I don’t drink coffee very often, and I still don’t, but I’ve been yawning a lot these last couple of days, so I thought it was a good day for a coffee – just to finish off the work week.

Just as a bit of background, I’m one of those odd people who work full-time and never consume pre-work or mid-work caffeinated beverages of any sort. Caffeine seems to have very variable effects for me – sometimes it will make me hyperactive, sometimes it’ll do absolutely nothing, and sometimes I get the diuretic/dehydration effects without the alertness – so I never thought it was worth it to have a morning coffee routine. Generally, for me, coffee is a “now and then” treat, like how some people might have ice-cream or a milkshake or something (I would’ve written cake as well, but I’m not going to kid myself about that!)

Side note: I’ll eat ice-cream whenever the opportunity presents itself, but I tend to avoid milkshakes (and thickshakes) because the very thought of the empty calories makes me sick, but I don’t seem to care about ice-cream calories (???)

Today’s coffee came from Outer Space Espresso in the Valley, which, thankfully, is neither in outer space or weirdly space themed. It’s just that it’s outside. I like the name; thought it was clever. Anyway, it’s a lovely place, and it would have been perfect on a cool, sunny day like today except that we got full-on gale force winds or something, making outdoor activities of any kind just frickin’ annoying (except, I guess, anything kite-related).

For anyone who cares, Outer Space serve Toby’s Estate coffee. Since I don’t drink coffee very often, I don’t think I’m anywhere near qualified to distinguish between a good coffee and an amazing coffee, but I will say that that first sip put such a smile on my face. I have been told by coffee enthusiasts that the perfect coffee should be ready to drink – you shouldn’t have to wait for it to cool down a bit, and it certainly should not scald your tongue ever. By this criteria, I suppose my coffee today was “perfect”.

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever written a post about a place just because they had great coffee, so for me to be writing this now must mean that they did a pretty good job, right? And the service was good too (always an important determinant of whether I’ll return or not).

While I sipped at my coffee, I started pondering about other people’s coffee routines and habits. I thought it was interesting that it’s something that’s commonly consumed alone, but also equally commonly consumed with company – both seem to be socially acceptable. This ubiquitous beverage is also perfect for just about every occasion: whether cramming for an exam or relaxing with a good book; having a business meeting or just a casual catch-up. And it’s served and consumed at all hours of the day. I know some people find the concept of post-dinner coffee a bit ridiculous, but restaurants must offer it for a reason!

What I do find ridiculous is that every morning on my way to work, I see high school students buying and drinking coffee. Every time I see a kid in school uniform (yes, you might be a teenager, but I’m going to call you a “kid” anyway) holding a coffee cup, I kind of cringe a bit. I certainly never had coffee during high school – never needed coffee – and didn’t know anyone my age who consumed it on a regular basis. It just makes me question what’s going on with kids these days. Maybe I’m just a bit out of touch with that generation?

Meh…

To be clear, I don’t have anything against people who drink coffee every day (perhaps multiple times a day) and rely on it. I won’t judge you (unless you’re a high school student, but then I’ll probably just wonder what sort of crazy schedules are being imposed on you that you need to drink coffee at your age).

There have been many studies conducted and articles written about the pros and cons of coffee in relation to health and well-being, but there’s so much conflicting research that I generally don’t pay attention to it. It’s the same for wine, chocolate and other good things in life. People want to try to justify it health-wise, but I reckon if you enjoy it, then it doesn’t matter – just have reasonable limits and stick to them (most of the time).

read vs write

I had a bit of a random thought the other day about reading and writing. I feel like I’ve written a post about this before, but I can’t seem to find it (not that I looked very hard), so please excuse me if you’ve heard this all before. (*Tangent Alert* It’s kind of like when you’ve told a story so many times to so many different people that you forget who you have and haven’t told, and then you kind of have to decide whether or not you want to go ahead and risk re-telling a story that people have already heard before. I know a few people who do this quite a bit, but they’re such fun to talk to, I usually don’t mind, or I’ll just subtly hint that that story sounds familiar…)

I had a conversation with a friend quite some time ago about the relationship between the love of reading and the love of writing. This particular friend loves to read, and reads a lot. I’m pretty much the same. However, she does not like to write, whereas I clearly love to write (I’d assume most people who write blogs like writing too). At the time, I remember thinking this was a bit odd, but I kind of just accepted it because, you know, “each to their own” and whatnot.

In recent weeks, while discovering new food blogs, and watching cooking shows like “MasterChef” and “Everyday Gourmet” and a variety of foodie shows on SBS, I had a thought that maybe the reading/writing relationship could be analogous to the eating/cooking relationship. Eating and reading both feed the soul. Cooking and writing can be such rewarding experiences that enrich the lives of those who undertake these tasks.

If someone likes to eat, and they’ve had delicious meals prepared for them all their life, I’d think it’d be reasonable for them to be inspired to learn to cook and create tastey dishes of their own. Likewise, if someone likes to read, it would not be out of place for them to be inspired to write – right?

I also reckon that people who love to write would also love reading; just as people who love to cook would certainly love to eat. I’ve never met someone who disproves this, but feel free to be the first. So much of cooking is tasting the components of the dish as you prepare it, ensuring everything is balanced, and the flavours are right. So much of writing is re-reading and editing your sentences so that the text flows as it’s intended. It’s hard for me to imagine someone who loves to write but detests reading (it makes me shudder just to think that anyone might detest reading at all, irrespective of their feelings toward writing).

The more I thought about this, the more I realised that the analogy could be expanded to include so many other things. For example, most human beings like music of some variety, but not everyone has an inclination toward singing or playing musical instruments. We can appreciate music (which also feeds the soul, by the way) without having an urge to sing or pick up a guitar or take up piano lessons. However, I don’t think it’s possible for a musician to not like listening to music. The analogy works, right? And it can probably be applied to most performing arts, and art art like paintings and sketches and whatnot.

Perhaps what determines whether you like both the process and the end-product, or whether you appreciate the end-product with minimal interest in the process – perhaps what it all boils down to is inspiration. It just depends on whether or not you reach that magical level of inspiration, where you’re moved to take action. (Sometimes I feel like I’m pretty easily inspired, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also means there are a lot of things that I want to do.) I could hypothesise that it might also come down to natural talent or affinity, but things like writing, cooking, drawing, etc can all be practised and perfected over time (although generally people seem to prefer doing things that they’re naturally good at).

One last thing – I think reading makes one’s writing better, and writing can improve one’s appreciation of reading. Likewise, eating can help improve one’s cooking, and cooking is likely to enhance the eating experience. Each pair works synergistically.

in the oven

Judging by the number of Mother’s Day posts circulating around WordPress recently (not to mention all the tributes on FB), I’m guessing that everyone knows it was Mother’s Day on Sunday. Don’t worry, this is not another M-Day post – not really, anyway. My mum is someone who’s not big on receiving gifts. She’s always told me that if I want to get her something for a special occasion, get something edible. I reckon I’ve kind of adopted her gift philosophy because I also agree that, as a general rule, the best gifts are edible (and delicious!). I also love receiving books as gifts but, like my mum, I’m not overly fussed about receiving material gifts.

On the week-end, I thought I’d go all out and bake two different treats for Mum. I’ve developed a love of baking in recent months (at times it’s a positively magical experience), and she’s liked what I’ve made so far (or so she says). The plan was one sweet and one savoury.

First up was carrot cake. I’ve made this before, and Mum really liked it, so it was a no-brainer. Plus we have lots of carrots. The recipe I used came courtesy of Julie Goodwin, Australia’s original MasterChef. I really like simple, straight-forward recipes that aren’t overloaded with too many ingredients, so when I found this one, I knew I’d like it. I didn’t even modify it …much.

Well, my mum doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth – she still likes sweet treats, but she’s pretty strict on the “in moderation” part (she is probably the reason why I’ve never had to have a filling) – so I actually omitted the syrup (also I didn’t have any syrup). The recipe calls for just half a teaspoon of cinnamon, which is not a problem at all, but since I also had some nutmeg and allspice (and they worked pretty well in another cake I made last year), I added half a teaspoon of each of these as well. Also, pecans work just as well as walnuts with carrot cake. (Love pecans!)

After getting the carrot cake in the oven, and then cleaning up, eating some lunch, and having a bit of a break (it does have to bake for 60-70 minutes, after all), I decided to make some cheese scones. Ever since this recipe from Jane’s Patisserie popped up on my Reader (there’s a reason why I’m a loyal subscriber!) I knew I’d have to give ’em a try. Again, it’s another reasonably simple recipe with not too many steps, so it was right up my alley.

Full disclosure, there were two things I changed on this one. First, I can’t really eat spicy food (my mum’s a bit better with hot food but, come on, I wanted to eat these too!) so I swapped the cayenne pepper for smokey paprika, which I think worked ok but was a bit too subtle for me. I also used random pizza cheese instead of the stated cheddar because I’d forgotten to buy some… It still tasted pretty good, and the texture of the actual scone was spot-on, but I will be remaking these this Friday, and I’ll go source some decent cheddar before then. I’m also considering mixing in some garlic (perhaps roasted or just minced) just because I like garlic.

Update 15/05/15: Cheese scones batch #2!

Update 15/05/15: Cheese scones batch #2!

one script

This last week feels like it’s gone by really quickly. There are about five different things I want to write a post about, but I just haven’t had the time this week – or, rather, I haven’t made time to write. I have a random week off work next week (just, you know, thought I’d use up some of my accumulated annual leave), and I’m actually really happy that I did apply for a week off because I might actually get some stuff done. Since it’s the week-end now, and I’m not working this week-end, I suppose this is the start of my “stay-cation” (is that still a thing?) and, of course, first on the agenda is to update my blog!

I feel like I need to do a follow-up post about The Script and their concert (mostly because I’ve still got their songs playing on repeat in my head). When I was writing the post last week, and as I hit the “publish” button, I kept feeling like there was so much that I had left out. After talking to other colleagues at work, I realise that not everyone who has a keen interest in music necessarily has a keen interest in concerts or live music. I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find someone who does not like music, but a lot of people just don’t go to concerts – and that’s people from different backgrounds, ages, etc. So, basically, if you don’t want to hear me talk about concerts, you might want to skip this post. You can go back and read any post prior to May 2nd, before I had any concert experience.

Even though there are a lot of people who aren’t big on music concerts, what really impressed me that night, last Saturday at The Script, was the variety of people – of fans – at their concert. Yeah, sure, the majority of people were probably females under 25, but there were a lot of guys (not with girlfriends) and older people (not with kids) and younger kids (who I’m not sure would fully understand the meaning and feeling behind some of the songs but I suppose you don’t have to be able to comprehend the meaning in order to be moved by a song).

I think people generally classify The Script as a soft-rock or pop-rock band. I don’t actually listen to the radio very much these days, but I’d always thought their music was kind of mainstream in the sense that it was widely played and listened to. Consequently, I was a bit surprised to find out that they’ve only had a few songs that have made it into the Top Ten in Australia. So I suppose their music isn’t for everyone, but I reckon that made it even more incredible to see all of these different demographics coming to see the one band. I’m not sure if it was a sell-out crowd, but it was pretty packed that night.

Once or twice during the concert, lead singer Danny also said a few words about the power of music in reaching out to so many different people. I don’t remember his words exactly, but it was something about how, regardless of age, race, gender, etc, we can all be touched by the same songs. Actually, the analogy he used was that music was like an all-inclusive umbrella under which everyone can stand; it’s something that unites people. And, sure, it’s kind of cliched, but I have to admit that it is a pretty amazing thing, and being there, at the Entertainment Centre, with all of these other fans with the same love for the same music – that was pretty special.