Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: Last Man: The Stranger by Balak, Michael Sanlaville, and Bastien Vives

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: The Stranger
Author: Balak, Sanlaville & Vives.
Series: Last Man trilogy, book 1.
Publication Date: March 31st 2015

Synopsis: "Adrian Velba is excited to compete in the annual Games, a gladiatorial contest, but his hopes are crushed when his combat partner falls ill. His luck changes when the mysterious Richard Aldana appears as his new teammate. Nobody knows what to make of Aldana - a cigarette-smoking, tough guy - in this medieval realm where fighting magic reigns supreme. Eschewing spells for physical prowess, Aldana helps Adrian as they become the Games' top contenders. But who is Richard Aldana? And what is the ultimate purpose behind the games?"

My thoughts: This book arrived for me on a day when I was tackling a few different things, and so I may have been a little biased towards it from that, but, to be honest, I tend to be biased towards First Second books quite naturally - they tend to be of a high standard!

This book starts in a great place, with Adrian - a blonde boy whose skills in the fighting ring are still a little lacking, according to his relatively judgmental trainer. Adrian is trying his hardest so that he can compete in the upcoming Games, and his fire and drive for the fight are somehow sweet.

I wasn't sure about the art style of this for some time - it felt unfinished to me and a little sketchy, like it was a couple of stages away from the finished product. But as I read I realised that this art style translates quite well for a book with such a large focus on martial arts and fighting as it flows very well and shows the movement without harsh lines getting in the way.

The book definitely finishes on a bit of a cliff-hanger, and the way you get to know the characters within the book definitely leaves you eager for the next volume. There is a surprising amount of emotional content in this volume, and I did experience times while reading this where I wanted to look away from everything that was happening but just couldn't - I needed to know what happened!

I have to say that, although the art style did grow on me, it was still a bit of a drawback at times, but I think that was personal preference. Very occasionally the storyline was a little predictable, too, but this wasn't a huge problem either.

I know I will be trying to get my hands on a copy of the next volume, and I will probably try to get my partner to read the first one, as I think it is a good read.

I received a review copy of this book from First Second Books. (Thank you!)

You would like this book if: You like seeing styles of martial arts in picture form; you enjoy a good annual Games tournament, perhaps with a side of emotional scenes.

Rating:  8/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Thinking about Change.

When things change, often we tighten up. We stiffen ourselves in an attempt to avoid the onslaught, like somehow we will turn ourselves into a unsurpassable mountain and all the waves of changes will simply bounce off of us. We will remain unchanged, and our world will remain the same.
And yet, that kind of reaction just doesn't track in the real world. We all know that even the strongest mountain is eventually whittled down, softened, via the waves and wind that beat at it. If you go into the ocean and just try to stand there, rigid, as the waves approach, you are more likely to be knocked down (often with a wave-slap to the face, saltwater up your nose) than for the waves to suddenly part around you.

This tightening is still my automatic response to big change, I notice myself trying to dig my heels in, refuse to be pulled or pushed. And yet that just doesn't work. Once I notice what I am doing, I try to do my best to just let go, to soften. I try to be gentle with myself and with the situation. Sometimes I will get stressed again, feel overwhelmed by all the change that is hitting me, and then I will still automatically tense, go back to digging in my heels, refusing to go with what is happening.

Sometimes this response is just a part of mental (and sometimes physical) overwhelm, where my spirit just says 'enough', and that is when I have to be the most gentle with myself. Because change is easier to cope with if you aren't feeling like your cup is not even half full, but completely empty, bone-dry. 

At the moment I am going through changes, I am exploring the more tender areas of my psyche and my spirit. I am also helping others with big change, and considering some of my own that will be coming along later down the track - later this year, early next year. It is confronting and difficult, and I find myself returning to that place of tightness quite often, hardly ever truly relaxing. But I keep trying to soften - soften into what is happening, soften into who I am and into who I am becoming. And I am finding out some interesting things about the best ways to support myself through the symptoms of overwhelm.

Nature is important - even nature analogies, it seems, help me to come to grips with the changes that are happening within and around me. Being okay with wanting things, but also not setting up expectations of those desires being met (that's a tricky one). Tactile experiences - for example, when I am feeling super stressed out (I'm talking, on the verge of a panic attack, here), I grab something soft, with different experiences of 'soft' all over it, and I allow myself to disappear into tactile sensation, rather than holding onto difficult thoughts. 

Feeling cozy seems to be super important to me - Xin pointed out to me very recently that he didn't understand why I needed so many different kinds of pyjamas, and I had to think about that for a little while. And I realised that I had always kind of liked pyjamas, but they only became important to me after I started to really understand how sick I was, and how it wasn't a type of sick that was just going to go away if I ate more garlic or got more fresh air. Coziness became this wondrous thing, a place where not only could I feel more human, more like me, but I could also often be more productive - I started giving my body more comforts so that my mind was able to work a little better. And it's only writing this now that I realise how true this was - when I first started semi-collecting pyjamas/blankets/teas, I was supporting myself in the only way that I knew how - through the experience of feeling cozy and cared for, even if it was just by myself, for myself. This experience of being cozy is something I have carried into my experiences of change - when I get overwhelmed by things, I turn to things that make me feel cozy. [More on this idea of coziness in another post, because it really is a topic all on its own.]

So, as this change continues to occur, I will be turning towards these things in an effort to weather everything. I will be trying not to tense up and avoid things, but loosen up and explore options with love and gentleness. I think change is easier to bear when we soften into it.

Love to all who read.

Friday, March 20, 2015

That *other* illness I sometimes get.

PLEASE NOTE: In this blog post I will be talking about a health condition that might make people feel uncomfortable. If you start reading and find yourself getting a bit triggered by this, please stop reading. Go check out one of my posts on books or morning routines, make yourself a cup of tea. As always, self-care is paramount.

My funny little realisation recently that I wanted to use my writing to help people - and particularly help people dealing with health problems - led me to start thinking about how I could do this. And something has happened to me twice (maybe three times) this year (already) that I don't talk to other people about.

It is an infection that I get with some regularity, despite my best attempts to avoid it. Every time I turn up to the doctor with this one, they tell me the same things (which I always follow to the letter), but apologise for not being able to offer more assistance. I had a brief respite from any symptoms of this infection when I was seeing my naturopath - but sometimes even the things she gave me to help don't seem to touch it.

What I'm talking about is an infection called Cystitis - a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

I am sure to people that have not experienced any sort of UTI, this small thing might not sound too bad. For some, it actually isn't - people don't often experience all the same symptoms with this one, and can just go to the doctor with some minor back pain or exhaustion and find that a script of antibiotics clears them right up.

I've never been one of those people. I started getting cystitis back in 2009, though I do have some vague memories of getting something like it when I was a kid, and having my mum take care of me and help me get through it. Whenever I get cystitis now (and it is unfortunately quite frequently), it starts with a burning sensation when I go to the bathroom. A burning sensation that gets steadily worse as time goes on, even if I am drinking lots of water, trying to flush out the offending germs.

Then I get pain in my lower abdomen, aching and yet severe. By this point I have usually heated up a heat pack or two - one to sit on, one to go on my tummy - to try and relieve the pain. Sometimes it helps. In some more vicious versions of the infection, it helps only a tiny bit. I often find myself rocking backwards and forwards, trying desperately to remember that I am a happy person. I am in so much pain and discomfort by this point - pain and discomfort that I can't escape - that I am usually very close to tears. I often want to go to the bathroom desperately, but fear the pain of actually going. 

If things have gotten to this point (sometimes I will just have a few symptoms but they go away with some care), I will go to the doctor and do the urine test and all of that stuff (more on that if requested, as I know some people have never had a UTI [this baffles me] and don't know what I mean). Sometimes the test will say I am okay, which is frustrating, but my doctors are ones that understand my case specifically and so we will talk through options. I have to be careful, as I am allergic to some antibiotics for UTIs, so I have to go on a different one to those - and I don't want to take it so much that I become immune to it, you know?

Writing about this is so hard, because it brings up a lot of pain and discomfort just as a topic. Many people I have seen about this problem say that cystitis comes up a lot for women that are unhappy in their relationships, or women that are holding a lot of anger inside. And yes, as one of my recent posts will attest, I do get angry sometimes, but it rarely correlates with when I get sick from a UTI. But I am not unhappy in my relationship, and it is frustrating to me when the same people continue to ask that about me when I just want them to find another reason why I get this so often, rather than just focusing in on the one they know.

If you experience cystitis, or interstitial cystitis (where the symptoms present themselves over and over again, with rarely a break) then I really really feel for you. I am so so sorry. This is one of those things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy (even if I was really really mad), and I know some people that have had to go to hospital when this infection spreads to the kidneys - luckily I have never had that experience as my body is so sensitive I tend to pick up on symptoms straightaway.

I realise that this post is a bit convoluted and doesn't make a lot of sense, but I feel so new to writing about this condition. I am not sure I will do it again, but I want people to know that they aren't alone in their experiences. Cystitis happens to so many people and yet we hardly talk about it. Most people don't know it exists. The only time I have ever seen it in 'the popular sphere' is in Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - she gets a UTI after having much sexy times. (Just to be clear, you don't always get UTIs after sexy times. They can come on for a multitude of reasons, and women with interstitial cystitis can just get it for no reason at all.)

As much as I want to start this conversation, I am still frightened. Frightened of what people might think of me, frightened of the illness itself. I think I have a long way to go to heal myself of this one.

Love to all who read.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A rambling post on emotions, health, and care.

Lately I have been undergoing some sort of change, and I have been feeling threatened and lost. Somehow I feel incapable of dealing with change and, although I continue to get up and do stuff as much as I can, all I want to do is hide in bed and have people bring me delicious foods and drinks and just make all the expectations go away.

This is actually a state I am accustomed to - it comes along once in a while, and usually leads to a lot of feeling angry and frustrated and not heard. And perhaps the most difficult thing about this is that I don't know how to deal with it. I don't know how to explain how I am feeling to others - and I don't always know why I am so angry.

I have begun to associate it with a feeling of 'I am overwhelmed'. Which works once I recognise it. I go into hyper-care mode - doing what needs to be done, but with huge breaks in between where I withdraw into a cave-like existence - monitoring the stimuli like light and sound. I ask myself what I need to read during that time, because sometimes when this happens I can't even face high fantasy, or (in some extreme cases) anything new to me. I reread things that helped in the past, watch tv series that I know and like, and make sure to do the usual things that you do if you have a cold or something like it - many fluids, nourishing foods (if I want that, sometimes I just eat junk food for a little while because I can't face anything else, but this rarely lasts long), comfortable clothes. I have been known to cancel a few things when this happens, and retreat to my room to be around squishy things - to avoid hard edges.

I feel like this is something that I kind of need to go through at times. People with chronic illnesses often develop depression because of their inability to get out of bed very often, or to see people that cheer them up, or to do things that they used to love. This is true for me, but - like many others - I am not able to tell you which came first: the depression, or the illness. Perhaps they always travel in pairs.

My anger, I have noticed, often comes from the same place as my depression - when I get angry, I find myself beginning to shut down and stop caring what happens to me. Because I am getting better at recognising that, I am better at managing it, but that doesn't mean it's going to stop happening.

I guess what I am saying here is that sometimes, even if it is frustrating or hurtful, we need to recognise where our own feelings are coming from, and try and take ownership of them. We need to care for ourselves and manage how we are feeling. Control may be a bit of a mystery, but care shouldn't be.

Love to all who read.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

{2015} February Reading

Books bought/received:
~ Preordered Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
~ Preordered Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop
~ Slow Heat by Jill Shalvis (gift)
~ Mothers Grimm by Danielle Wood
~ Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
~ South of Darkness by John Marsden (gift)
~ Rescue My Heart by Jill Shalvis
~ Kenko Kitchen (cookbook) by Kate Bradley

(still managing to follow my 'read/donate three books off my shelf before I get one book buying token' system... It's complex to explain but works quite well for me!)

Books read:
Now that the Aurealis Awards judging are over for another year, I am back to my own reading! SO I will just be listing those from now on~~

~ Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson
~ Double Play (Pacific Heat #1) by Jill Shalvis
~ Slow Heat (Pacific Heat #2) by Jill Shalvis
~ Animal Magnetism (Animal Magnetism #1) by Jill Shalvis
~ Animal Attraction (Animal Magnetism #2) by Jill Shalvis
~ The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
~ Rescue My Heart (Animal Magnetism #3) by Jill Shalvis

Uhm... You can probably tell that I went on a bit of a Jill Shalvis kick this month. I was really in the mood for some romance books and so, after a little bit of looking around, this name popped up on my radar. I went to my local library and grabbed all of her books that they had (Double Play and the first two books of Animal Magnetism) and sat down to read.
Can I just say, this was exactly what I needed. Sweet characters, lovely romance, and the occasional hot sex scene - such a lovely break for my brain from the sometimes heavy aspects of fantasy.
I should also mention that I read two issues of Kinfolk - issues 12 and 14 - over this month. I got a little addicted! I have issue 13 on the way, and am considering whether I can manage a subscription. I love their slow-living style!
Other than that, I read Hokkaido Highway Blues - a book about a man in Japan hitchhiking to follow the wave of sakura. I found it quite enjoyable, but was a little disappointed with the ending, as it cut off quite suddenly.
And, finally, I read The Raven Boys. I got this for Christmas from my brother and I am so glad I did, as it is just fascinating to read. I am already reading book two - The Dream Thieves.
Other things I am currently reading: trying to finish Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (which is amazing, but quite long!), Of Silk and Steam by Bec McMaster (book five in the London Steampunk series - so happy to be reading this new release!), and also dipping in and out of a few books that I got from the Perth Writer's Festival! (Which was awesome, by the way.)

What are you reading at the moment? Any romance?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Series: Red Queen Trilogy Book 1
Publication Date: Some conjecture, I am a bit confused. I know that it came out in America on February 10, but Hachette reckons April 2015 for the rest. Thus, posting this review at a kind of random time! (Sorry!)

Synopsis: "This is a world divided by blood - red or silver.
The poverty-stricken Reds are commoners, living in the shadow of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers. To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from the Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.
Then Mare finds herself working at the Silver palace, in the midst of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control."

My thoughts: This was one of those books that turned up with one of those tag-lines written on it, in this case - 'A thrilling new fantasy trilogy for fans of DIVERGENT and THE HUNGER GAMES' (publisher's emphasis). These sorts of tag-lines serve a purpose - getting people interested in the book if they've read the listed titles - but I tend to find them more annoying than anything. I want a chance to read the story before I start making comparisons between it and other things I've read - a chance to understand what is going on before I start having my opinion swayed.

Unfortunately, the presence of these tag-lines has begun to make me feel a little biased already - against the book. I recognise that this is a strange and kind of silly reaction, but I can't seem to help it. Sometimes books with tag-lines turn out to be some strange amalgamation of books already written, and a not very good specimen at that.

And some, like Red Queen, are actually pretty awesome once you give them a chance.

It took me a few chapters to get into this story - I am not exactly silent on my dislike of most dystopian fiction, and I find it difficult to read about people like the Reds who deal with so much on a day-to-day basis. But I started to warm to the characters and figured this would be a good romp if nothing else. And then things began to get serious.
The way some of the Silver characters have been created is intriguing - they seem to have quite a few layers to them and I found myself equally suspecting them of wrongdoing whilst also wanting to trust them, right along with Mare. At times I found Mare to be a little irritating, but those times were few and far between, and more often than not I was analysing her reactions along with the reactions of the people around her.

The romance is present, I must add, as I know some people find romance destroys a good dystopian (for me, I find it one of the only things that I cling to during all the doom-and-gloom), but, having said that, I didn't find it overwhelming. I occasionally found myself wondering how I would feel if I had been placed in Mare's situation, and I guess I am a romantic at heart as I wanted the romance to succeed (plenty of opportunity here for different 'teams' according to which male character you prefer), but Mare often tries to ignore romantic feelings and turn back to her tasks (tasks that I will not discuss).

One of the main things that I think authors need to get right is the structure of the world in which they place their characters. Aveyard managed to create a world which was alarmingly reminiscent of our own, which I think helped me to connect with what was happening that much more easily. Certain parts of the world made me think of ongoing situations that we have in our own world, and it makes you wonder just how far off we are from the sort of division that Silvers and Reds experience.

Analysis aside, this is an intriguing book that I ended up loving, and I am definitely looking forward to the sequel.

I received an unsolicited copy of this book from Hachette for review.

You would like this book if: you enjoy dystopian YA; you feel like something that reflects our own world a little, but with awesome powers thrown in.

Rating:  8/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On the Unconscious Decision Not to Blog

I haven't been posting super often (again) (you may have noticed). And I kept thinking about my blog and wondering when I was going to head back and start things up again, get into the tea reviews I had promised, maybe post a few more spoonie diaries or KPop CloseUps. I still feel the desire to do those things, but I just didn't have the drive to do them.

That's not to say I haven't been writing, I've just been working on my own stuff.

And it wasn't until I read a blog post by Havi over on The Fluent Self blog that I linked a few things together. You see, Havi writes a lot about things being right because they are what they are - she follows the paths that she knows are right for her, even when Siri or someone else tells her that they're wrong. Sure, she sometimes still gets caught up in her stuff (who doesn't?), but she owns her stuff, recognises it like an old thing come back to say hello, and she gives herself the space and time and love to move through it.

And after reading that, and remembering that, I realised why I had been avoiding writing on my blog. It was never an active choice, I just... didn't feel the need to go there. I sent it love and thoughts when I thought about it, but couldn't think of anything to write.

The thing is, I just wrapped up reading and judging for the Aurealis Awards for the second year in a row, and I also just fell into a new year (perhaps you noticed that we're in 2015 now? seems crazy! and also we're in the year of the ram!). Last year was good, don't get me wrong, but it was also crazy hard and kind of scary for me. The health stuff that I went through cracked me open in an entirely new way, and I can't say I have ever felt so exposed, so vulnerable. I am still working on getting my drive back for seeing doctors and such and, while I have had a few visits, most of them have just been general maintenance rather than anything super serious or new.

And I needed a break. I needed to step away from all of the new stuff - trying to find new publishers, trying to find writing jobs, trying to find new things to try for my health. I have spent most of this month reading romance novels, because that's what I felt like. I just wanted to turn inwards and work on things that made me feel joyful and content. Things like my own writing, or learning Korean, or even researching watercolour. I wanted to experiment with my cooking a little bit, and I wanted to be inspired again.

I think I'm doing pretty well at the moment. I am feeling happier and more joyful than I have in a long time, and I am feeling a deep connection to who I am, to my partner, to friends, and just generally feeling more resilient about life. I'm not sure I'm quite there with my medical stuff, but that's okay. I'm not in any hurry at the moment. Maintenance is fine by me.

I am hoping to return to blogging regularly soon. I will still post the occasional book review when they pop up, but I am just taking things as they come at the moment. I look forward to returning!

Love to all who read.
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