everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Book Review – Aiyaiyai

Aiyaiyai is not the name of the book (although that would be a cool title), it’s an expression to summarise how I am now feeling. On the plane this afternoon I read Charlotte Wood’s novel, “The Natural Way of Things”. I had started reading it almost a week ago, on my flight to Perth, but had only read a few chapters and was mostly confused, to be honest.

I chose the book from my favourite local bookshop, The Grumpy Swimmer, because it had a sticker on it saying that it was the 2016 Stella Prize Winner. And the font was nicely spaced out so I knew it would be easy to read on the plane. A shallow choice, I guess, and the purchase definitely went against my new “one in, one out” policy (to limit the number of books stacked on my bedside tables, and bookshelves, and side tables, and on the floor next to the bedside tables).


Anyway, I am writing this on the plane after just finishing the novel (don’t worry, my phone is in aeroplane mode and the post will publish after landing). I am afraid that it’s one of those books (or movies) that has left me feeling as though I can’t speak. 

The praise from other authors (featured on the book’s covers) includes words like: “A brave, brilliant book.” And, “terrifying, remarkable and utterly unforgettable”. And, “it gets under your skin, fills your lungs, breaks your heart”. 

I can see what they mean, but I would describe the book as “bleak”. Really bleak. (I can see that mightn’t help to sell as many books though.) And it’s powerful, but in a horrible way that made me quite happy to get to the end, albeit with a hollow feeling inside. But then I was disappointed with the ending, which made the whole thing even darker. Yikesy mama, what a ride.

In a nutshell, Charlotte Wood is undoubtedly a great writer and this raises some interesting points about how women are seen in society. But it was too dark and bleak and empty for me – definitely not a light or uplifting holiday read!

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Being four

I don’t really remember being four. I’m sure it was a fun time though, before school started for me, but was well and truly occupying my three older brothers. I guess I hung out with my lovely mum and grandparents a lot. I think I must have gone to preschool part-time (maybe 3 days per week) and I do remember that place a little bit. I swear that War Memorial Preschool had front gates with black jail-style bars, but will need to fact check that (if the building hasn’t yet been bulldozed to make way for an apartment block).

Anyway, enough reminiscing. I’m currently enjoying a little holiday over in WA, where my middle brother lives with his lovely wife and daughter. Milly is four. And I’d better keep spell-checking as that gets autocorrected to Milky. Which would be slightly too wacky as a name, even for WA.

It’s fun to catch up with Milly, and I’m learning a lot. For starters, I didn’t know there were different varieties of Vegemite; or that tiaras make surprisingly practical headbands; or that the free Playschool app is actually really clever. In return, I’ve shown Milly the genius of the funny filters on Snapchat; introduced the celebratory fist bump; and generally complemented an already impressive repertoire of wackiness. We’ve watched some movies and read some books and done some shopping. Good times.

We highly recommend this book.


Spoiler alert: the book is mostly a hit because of funny sounds like these. Inducing snorts of laughter.


And you can never have too much bling. [Disclaimer: I actually bought this one.]


We recommend this movie – it’s like Barbie meets James Bond. With weapons like a glitter bomb, lipstick that turns into a tazer, a robot dog. Usual spy stuff.

So, I never saw the original, but this sequel was ok. The age old tale of the struggle between being a mermaid and a girl. Featuring the worst fake Australian accent I have ever witnessed.

Because four is the perfect age to rock a gold puffy vest around town. #gangstalyf

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EverydaySparks Book Club – Wonder

I am excited to report that I have read three books during my two-week festive holiday from work. I have also finished at least five magazines (and they were really big ones, guys, full of lots of words and info graphics and stuff). This has reduced the remaining magazine stacks to only semi-dangerous height now. (I did tear out quite a lot of pages for future reference, but since they go on a completely different pile, it doesn’t really count.)

Anyways, back to the books. I dedicate the first EverydaySparks book review for 2015 (the first of at least three reviews, I’ll wager) to a book that was recommended by my fabulous niece, Kate. The book is Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. The age guide is 10+ and let me say that it comes extremely highly recommended by a panel of reviewers aged 12, 30-something and 70-something.

"You can't blend in when you were born to stand out."

“You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”

It is outstanding. Accessible to kids, with its short chapters and contemporary pop culture references. Of universal appeal and education due to its incredible messages around being courageous, different, kind, grateful, and accepting the cards that have been dealt.

Without giving the game away, Auggie is a young boy who was born with severe facial deformities. Really severe. He is a source of much curiosity, sympathy, horror, and ridicule. But people can be so awesome. And that is all I’ll say about this book.

My dear old Dad says it should be compulsory reading for every school kid. I think it should probably be compulsory reading for every human. But we can start with the kids, I guess. You can buy it from book stores all over the world – and I really think you should!

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EverydaySparks Book Club

A while back, I thought it would be a good idea to write book reviews here as a way to encourage me to get back into the habit of reading. And to make better progress through the unread books piling up on my bookshelves, bedside table and patch of floor next to my bedside table. I tried to commit to not buying new books until I could at least regain some sense of control: maybe even a one-in, one-out sort of policy. Except I think I may have underestimated my addiction.

Whatevs, today’s book review is for a new book – one that I justified buying as I was recently HELD CAPTIVE by a delayed flight out of Brisbane. Trying to return home from a work trip, I was faced with a couple of unexpected hours to pass in the terminal. Oh, and a dying phone battery. No iPad. And no book. (And no chocolate, but that’s a tragic tale that’s just too sad to re-tell.)

[image from Simon & Schuster]

[image from Simon & Schuster]

We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride caught my eye – partly for the tag line, “When the worst in life brings out the best in us” and partly because it features an ice cream truck on the cover. I can be easily pleased like that.

It is McBride’s debut novel – a unique perspective that is really well written and difficult to put down. I was going to describe it as ‘easy to read’, in that I quickly became invested in the key characters and their lives and finished the book quickly. But I don’t want to be misleading – I did not always find the concepts ‘easy to read’, a few of the chapters were quite dark and sad.

Yet the skill of the writer is in making the reader want to push through to the end. It’s thought-provoking, challenging and a reminder that all of us are struggling with something. In my humble opinion, it is a very good novel. Here’s the summary (from the Simon & Schuster website)…

In the predawn hours, a woman’s marriage crumbles with a single confession. Across town, an immigrant family struggles to get by in the land of opportunity. Three thousand miles away, a soldier wakes up in hospital with the vague feeling he’s done something awful. In a single moment, these disparate lives intersect. Faced with seemingly insurmountable loss, each person must decide whether to give in to despair, or to find the courage and resilience to rise. We Are Called to Rise is a story about a child’s fate. It is a story about families – the ones we have and the ones we make. It challenges us to think about our responsibilities to each other while reminding us that compassion and charity can rescue even our darkest moments.

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EverydaySparks Book Review #1

I have come up with a clever plan to help with my effort to read more books in 2014. It’s not a resolution, mind, it’s just an effort. Cos it was a resolution last year (along with painting my nails and seeing one new release movie per month) and that didn’t turn out quite so well. I’ve always been a reader – I am very grateful to my folks, who must have passed it on in the genes. I can’t hope to compete with my Dad in the reading stakes, though – he’s chain-reads books like a champ (well, books and more recently that Hay Day farming game on the iPad…grandpas these days…).

Anyways, I have a stupid number of half-read books perched menacingly on my bedside table – from funny books about the Camino, to sad books about the Camino, to educational books about packing for the Camino (probs should’ve finished that one before we went), to a book on advertising in the Mad Men era, to one about passengers on the Titanic. And, for good measure, there are a few more bookmarked on my coffee table. I’m sure there’s probably a name for it somewhere in that psychiatric handbook – bibliodistracta or something like that. But that’s so 2013 – this year, I’m all about making time to read (and that includes finishing) more books.

My clever plan? To read them and then tell you about them here, in case you might like them (or need a gift idea for a book-loving pal). Now, given that I’m recovering from bibliodistracta…and it’s only the beginning of the new year…and [insert another excuse here]…my first book review is for a small, 97 page non-fiction number from 2008. Ann Patchett is an American writer, though I must confess that I’d never heard of her until I read some reference to this book that she wrote following her inspirational commencement address to the almost-graduates of Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

An easy read with a cup of tea. Maybe two cups.

An easy read with a mug of tea. Maybe two mugs.

What now? is a nice little piece of motivation for people who are looking for a new direction or a bit of a sanity check about what they’re doing. I like Patchett’s style – it’s not an over the top, rah-rah, YOU ARE AWESOME kinda pep talk. It’s more of a story about the twists and turns that make up your life’s journey and how there’s really no ‘wrong’ decision –  it’s only in hindsight that you can see how the student became the waitress and the cook and the teacher and then the super-successful award-winning author. Hey presto – just like that!

NB, most pages have more words than this.

NB, most pages have more words than this. But I do like this inside cover.

I think this book is a nice gift for someone who’s finishing their studies or a job or whatever – it’s a small hardcover with lots of cool photos, full of sensible, practical inspiration. It’s a thought-provoking book, but overall I think it’s mostly reassuring: don’t get too stressed about the big question of WHAT AM I MEANT TO BE DOING???? Stop over-analysing; always keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities; learn from the people around you; and be ok with the fact that you’ll never be 100% sure that you’re on the ‘right track’. Because (in my words, not Patchett’s), there’s no such freakin’ thing.

Because I couldn't resist including this pic of grannies in a maze.

Because I couldn’t resist including this pic of grannies in a maze.

If the thoughtful, academic analysis of my first EverydaySparks Book Review makes you realise that you need this book too, you can check it out on Amazon here: What now?

Now, I’m off to finish another book to review before 2015 flies around…

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Stickmen

I was going through my bookshelves recently and noticed this little book, which I hadn’t looked at for a while. It’s called STICKMEN by Peter Vegas and I can’t remember where I bought it, probably one of those impulse buys at the counter of a book shop (so it must be old – remember book shops?)… Flicking through it still made me smile, so I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you today.

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

[From Stickmen, by Peter Vegas]

And there are plenty more where those came from – I just did a quick search and it seems that Peter Vegas is a Kiwi who works in advertising and has written a few different Stickmen books in his spare time. They’re simple, they’re quirky and I think they’re great. Hooray for Stickmen!

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Whistle While You Walk

This isn’t really a book club, I just wanted to show you this excerpt from the book I’m currently reading on how to pack for the Camino de Santiago. I hadn’t expected there to be so much to learn about the topic, but it’s quite a long book. Like a lot of the reading I’ve done about the Camino, it’s super-informative, but parts of it are slightly disturbing.

Sounds like a plan.

Sounds like a plan.

Just look at that dude on the cover, trotting along the Way, with a little bird helping lift the burden of his (already tiny) backpack. Happy days on the Camino, yes? Well, not every day, if page 106 of this book is to be believed. I’m off to buy a whistle. Or a high-tech sound device.

Yikes.

Yikes.

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Worth Noting

Anrol Designs are a Melbourne-based outfit that appreciate the quirky. They have licensed the work of the clever folk at Dear Blank Please Blank and come up with some notebooks that made me smile, so I thought I’d share them with you. I’d put these in the funk-tional gift category: surely everybody can use another notebook in their collection. I have quite a large collection of notebooks myself – I still have grand plans of filling them with story ideas, business ideas, website ideas, shopping lists, gift lists, lists of my enemies…those kinds of things. And I’m a sucker for cool stationery. I was also a star procrastinator when studying – I could spend hours sharpening all of my pencils and testing all of my pens, then re-arranging my desk drawers by colour and spring cleaning my wardrobe, before I’d finally settle down to start writing an essay. As if all that re-organisation could somehow help me to write more convincingly about something I still didn’t quite understand. Kinda like Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams. And no, I’ve never seen that movie, but I do hope that analogy makes sense. So it is with the notebook – once you have one that looks great, the amazing ideas will surely flow. Anyways, here are some of my favourites from the collection:

(Ok, this one is a card & not a notebook.)

(Alright, another card.)

(Yes, this one is a canvas. Promise there are some notebooks for sale too.)

You can check out the range of notebooks, canvasses, t-shirts, tea towels and cards at the Anrol Designs etsy shop here and the Dear Blank Please Blank website is also worth checking out – you can even submit your own message to the world. Or to your neighbour, or whoever it is that is bugging you. One of my favourites is: Dear Nickelback, That’s enough. Sincerely, the world. That website is here.

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Book ’em, Danno

I love books. And when I saw a headline for ‘an eclectic collection of books’ by Melville House featured on Fab.com recently, my curiosity was piqued. An eclectic collection indeed. You can keep your alleged classics like War and Peace or Ulysses, I’ll take How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees, a master in “the age-old art of manual pencil sharpening”. According to the hardcover of this 224 page book, it’s perfect for flange turners, anglesmiths and civil servants. I don’t know any of them folk, but I do know some contractors and apparently it’ll be right up their street too. (On another note, if you do know a flange turner or anglesmith, please let me know. And tell me what they do.)

Or maybe Drunk is more your thing. (No judgement.) Written by word nut Paul Dickson, it’s basically a list of 2,964 synonyms for ‘drunk’ (including such classics as roasted, whazood, whiskey frisky and Boris Yeltsinned). So now you know.

But the choice doesn’t end there – oh no. How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive or I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me or the beautifully covered (yes, I know the old saying, but I’m shallow) RotisRoasts for every day of the week (including slightly off-putting pictures of cute animal faces).

So, whether you’re an avid reader, love a pretty bookshelf or you’re a flange turner looking for a helpful tome, this collection could be eclectic enough to suit!

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These boots are made for readin’

I love etsy, the online world of arts and crafts people – some of whom have amazing talent and produce truly beautiful work…and then there are others, who hopefully haven’t packed in a lucrative day job in search of megabucks via their etsy shop. I’ll let you decide which camp this latest find falls into, but in the spirit of St Patrick’s Day, I was taken by the product title: Irish boots with green clover. Legs in the book. 

Off to a good start, I looked further and found a picture, surely worth 1000 words…

Wow. What strange world had I uncovered? What are these legs in the book all about? And what happens to all the bodies? Is there another, slightly poorer selling, series of bodies in the book? Turns out they are fancy bookmarks made by a lady in the Ukraine, whose motto seems to be ‘never stop sharing your LOVE’, which is very nice. But I doubt that the Valentine’s Day version of ‘legs in the book’ were used as a substitute for roses or diamonds by many romantics this year.

Anyways, in case you still can’t quite get how this all works, here you go:

Aha. To top it all off, the legs appear to be shipped to you in a beautiful gift box, which is long and narrow – eerily like a brightly coloured coffin, to be honest. To share your LOVE with some legs in the book, check out Olena’s shop on etsy.

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