The Mid-Year Freak Out Tag

I’m copying A Court of Crowns and Quills here because a half-way check is in dire need. Due to a lapse of almost two months, I’m not nearly where I’d like to be halfway through the year, but I’m back into reading and hoping I can make up for lost time. Here are my books…

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and here are my thoughts so far…

Best Book You’ve Read This Year?
This Mortal Coil | Caraval

Best Sequel You’ve Read in 2018?
I’d had a terrible year of reading Book #1’s that haven’t had sequels published yet! But I’m currently reading Our Dark Duet which I’m loving, and can’t wait for both Muse of Nightmares and Thunderhead.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To
Legend (also applicable to the above)

Most Anticipated Release For The Second Half Of The Year
Any of the aforementioned sequels! Probably Muse of Nightmares most of all

Biggest Disappointment
The Cruel Prince. I heard so many good things and just didn’t enjoy it at all.

Biggest Surprise
This Mortal Coil, it was a cheap impulse buy at Kmart and was just so GOOD!

Favourite New To You Or Debut Author
Only new to me, but I’m enjoying VA/Victoria Schwab and keen to read more of her work

Newest Fictional Crush
August Flynn (This Savage Song)

Newest Favourite Character
Catarina Agatta (This Mortal Coil)

Book That Made You Cry
The Hate You Give

Book That Made You Happy
Reading always makes me happy.

Favourite Book-to-Film Adaptation
Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, although I’m yet to actually see the film. I’ve heard great things though.

Favourite Post You Have Done This Year
I only took this the other day, but the background was stunning and I’m so happy with how it turned out.

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Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Caraval. Although I’ve been reading on the kindle a lot more this year, I couldn’t resist that stunning cover.

Here’s hoping I can smash out those sequels and hit my goal of 52 books this year!

Love always,
Alana

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Sunflowers, Beach Holidays & Pen Pals

On 18 May 2018, my paternal grandmother ‘Ma’ passed away. She’d just turned 95, had been in an aged care home for the past 4 years, and had receded into dementia gradually over that time. Honestly, we were impressed she’d come back from her deathbed in 2004 when she’d been in Canberra looking after my brother and I and ended up in a coma with massive organ failure. Well, over the past 14 years she managed to not only get better but return to her home, see (pictures of) the weddings of three grandchildren, and have regular visits of two of her beautiful great grandchildren. What I’m saying is, and my father put it best, “it wasn’t a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.”

We said farewell in a ceremony conducted by my mother, for which she asked that we provide some words that we associate with Ma. Mine were:

Sunflowers. Tall, beautiful, and always looking toward the sun, sunflowers are my strongest affiliation with Ma. When I was little, she made me not one but two hand-crafted straw hats, with sunflowers fastened on the front. I loved those hats, and they remained in our home for a long time after they stopped fitting. Her kitchen was also a place of sunflowers, with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and cupboard decals abound.

Beach Holidays. I grew up going to Ettalong Beach with my family, to visit Ma and enjoy the central coast in school holidays. When I was old enough, I caught the bus to Sydney and train to Woy Woy to go see her on my own. I drove up with my first boyfriend for an adventure at the beach, showing him the place so dear to me. I took my now-husband for a trip, and he was long and fondly known as the one who fixed her clock.

Pen Pals. At two separate stages in my life I was a regular pen-pal with Ma, reporting on my (surely uneventful) life, with news of school, boyfriends, achievements. Awaiting her letters in the post, decoding the elaborate cursive, which became just a little easier as I got older. There were whited-out corrections, the rare mis-spelled word that she’d missed, and most of all the tangible love with which she wrote to me, and with which I know she received my letters. The title of this blog is attributed to the sign off I would use whenever I wrote her. My nod to our letters and a way to continue writing to her, long after she could receive or send a note.

Those are my quick, three-word-response answers, but there are other things that I don’t want to forget, that I felt the need to record, and that I’m choosing to share here, as always for my own record more than anyone else’s.

She told me a poem/song which has been stuck in my head for years, and that, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I recently tracked down in full:

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There was always a poem or tune, endless hymns and songs I didn’t know, that she would always be singing. Whether she was happy or sad, sick or well, there would be a tune in her head that she wanted to get out.

She was also a great talker, there were of course the long chats and stories. In recent years, with the lines of past and present blurring, there were some great stories from her past that came out, her prided time as a ticket write featuring heavily. Then when the history became fantastical fiction, it was still so interesting to listen and hear her journey through the world as she understood it, as it appeared to her.

Her artworks and her talents were evident throughout her home. I only discovered at her funeral that some cross-stitch pieces that sat on her wall in Ettalong for as long as I can remember were not just enjoyed but made by her. Alongside her beautiful paintings.

I remember the joy when we took Patch and Wicket to visit her. When we gifted her with a sheep-shaped bag which earned pride of place on the couch and was of course named ‘Shaun’.

My brother reminded me of the video tapes she’d have ready for our visits, painstakingly recorded from the TV, and in a technical marvel, for some she’d even skipped the ads.

I remember playing office in her lounge room; the old alphabet-clip address book, receipt books, notepaper and pens always in their place.

I remember heading through her house to visit Bill, the grandfather-figure in the cabin out the back, who’d always have soft drink in the fridge for us. I remember the early morning the ambulance came for him and Ma was distressed so Evan and I made cups of tea and massaged her feet and looked after her for the day.

I remember looking through her bedroom drawer at her scarves, jewellery, and admiring the photographs of her dearly departed husband and son on the dresser.

I remember her shelves of photos of children and grandchildren, the pride of place for university graduations.

I remember the walks to the Chinese or chicken take-away, whatever our treat dinner was for that night, followed by the slices or cakes that she’d prepared earlier. The old op-shop which was so great for a time, and the regular market trips, although it never really changed.

I remember when she came to look after us, that we were at the bus stop together and she told me later that all she wanted was for me to come hold her tight and keep her warm in the cold air. But she hadn’t said it out loud, and I hadn’t done it.

Even though it hurts, I am grateful for remembering, because she is these memories and so much more. I am grateful that when we went to visit and say our goodbyes just a week before she let go, I was able to sit and hold her hand for what felt like just long enough.

Love Always,
Alana xx

Dream House Wishlist

Now that we’ve made the move to Canberra with our sights set on buying a house within the next 12 months, I seem to spend all my free time looking at houses for sale. After many discussions with hubby, and honestly a lifetime of looking at houses, I thought I’d finally put down on “paper” my LIST. You know, the must-haves or nice-to-have’s for our beautiful family home! So, here it is, my wants for our future home…

  • Single-storey with nice curb appeal
  • Min. 3 bedrooms, 4 would be nice
  • 2 bathrooms, or at least a separate toilet
  • Large lounge room – it’s definitely the heart of our house
  • Open kitchen/dining area – I hate to feel secluded in the kitchen when we’re entertaining
  • Gas stove top – this is a definite must!
  • Backyard – at least a bit of room for dogs/kids to run around

A pretty small list, so theoretically achievable. We’ll see what we end up with in a matter of months, and I really can’t wait!

Love Always,
Alana

Hello 2018

“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.” – Greg Reid

I’m not one for New Years Resolutions, but with the big move under our belts, new jobs on the horizon and some huge plans for this year, I felt the need to write down a few of the things I’m working for in the next 10-12 months.

one. Get Fit and Healthy
This week I have joined a gym, attended a Body Balance class, walked all but one morning, bought a FitBit, and had an induction PT session establishing a gym routine. And I’ve loved it. It’s easy at this stage when I have no full time employment, but I’m keen to keep it up, with the usual goal to lose weight but mostly to feel healthier, happier in my skin, and more motivated. Eating healthier is also a given with my more people home more often inspiring proper home-cooked meals. Here’s to keeping it up when we work full time!

two. Save Our Butts Off
The main reason for this move was to get a house, and in order to get a house we need a lot of money. This is already underway with much of our payouts going straight into savings, and any expenses so far being relatively necessary ones (whether for my health kick, or Blake’s driving lessons) but overall the savings should be made easily possible simply by being here – no more weekend trips from Sydney, massive rent or additional living costs that come with working in the CBD. Again, good habits mean good results and as soon as we get into full time work we’ll be able to lock in regular savings transfers and watch that money grow.

three. Reconnect with Friends
The hardest part of the last year or so in Sydney was feeling so far away from all our lovely friends, so I hope to have much more time spent with all of them now we’re here for good. But it’s also a reminder that keeping friendships requires work – it’s easy when you’re visiting from out of town to make the effort and say hi, but when everyone’s on hand it’s still worth checking in and saying hi. So far do good on that front, though there’s still a few people I need to see.

four. Study Hard
I decided to take the opportunity of living at my parents’, without our usual creature comforts of our own lounge room, to take on some additional study. I’ve enrolled in a Graduate Certificate of Marketing which kicks off in a couple of weeks, and plan to buckle down for the next 8 months and actually complete it. This should be doable, but will still take some dedication and hard work, so evenings at the library are definitely in my future. I’m really feeling ready to study again and think it’s the right step forward for my career too.

five. Keep Reading
I’ve really enjoyed getting into the #Bookstagram world in the last few months, and generally keeping up with our reading challenges. Here’s hoping I can keep it up with everything else going on.

So, big plans need writing down and its looking like an exciting year ahead, with lots of hard work.

Love Always,
Alana

Beautiful Things by Talented Women

I’ve been so impressed lately by the incredible women I know that have started up businesses selling their creations or services, I felt it was time I gave them all a big shout out!

Be sure to check out their gorgeous items/services and give them some socials love:

SARAH BLYTHE [floral art]
website | instagram
*pictured: Pressed Petals I Print

LOVE, ELIJAH [baby clothes]
website | instagram

RAISING RILEY [kids’ clothes]
website | instagram

SAM & CARTER [lipstick]
website | instagram

POWDERED DRY SHAMPOO [organic dry shampoo]
etsy | instagram

I’LL BRING THE PLATTER [event platters]
instagram

I LOVE EVERY LITTLE MINUTE WITH YOU [kids book]
facebook

Love Always,
Alana

SydFest 2018

Unlike the long hours and events that kept me from seeing any films at Sydney Film Festival, my summer love Sydney Festival lets me see a huge range of new and exciting shows in January. It was a true blessing the first year, and something I’ve definitely embraced for my second and final year.

As Festival Director Wesley Enoch says – at a Festival you might see 10 shows, 3 you’ll love, 3 you’ll hate and 3 you thought were OK, but you and your friend won’t agree on which is which. With that in mind, as I’m sure some of these were loved by many other people, here are my ratings and reviews of the shows I was lucky enough to see at Sydney Festival 2018.

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WHIST *1/2
A VR experience which left a lot to be desired, this was interesting tech-wise, but the featured artworks did little to impress, and the overall tech quality was lacking. The journey proved more a standing cinematic experience, with little reason for the VR in many places, and the ending analysis seemed vague and inaccurate to me.

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REMBRANDT LIVE **
While Nude Live completely blew me away last year, this multi-discipline performance didn’t speak to me in the same way. Being ushered through the gallery rather than free to explore at my own pace meant I missed much of the artwork, while being short also meant I missed much of the visual performance. The music was lovely and the concept is great, but the over-play of the theatrical elements meant it didn’t connect me to the artwork in the same way as last year’s production.

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND **
A kid’s performance which felt a big confused about it’s messaging. With it’s big words alongside physical and fart jokes, this might have been more enjoyable had we actually brought children, but considering how much children’s theatre we see, it didn’t really rate.

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RIOT **1/2
A variety show with limited cabaret elements, this show managed to simultaneously be too political and not political enough, with no cohesive story or overarching themes. With weak arial, too much singing and dancing for me, and spoken word which seemed completely out of context of the rest of the show, the Lords of Strut were by far the best part of this show.

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TREE OF CODES **1/2
While beautiful, this piece really lacked substance for me. Not really a ballet, it was an hour and a half of contemporary dance with little tangible theming that I was able to grasp. Incredible effects and gorgeous dancers couldn’t make up for the lacklustre story.

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JURASSIC PLASTIC ***
An installation in Sydney Town Hall commenting on the vast consumerism and obsession with cheap plastic toys, this was a beautiful, intricate, and educational event. Without the Maker Space Workshop where we could dig through tubs and create our own beautiful toy mash-ups, the exhibit would’ve been a quick visit, but the message is clear and the details are incredible.

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MODEL CITIZENS ***1/2
Circus Oz doing what they do best, this piece had some weak elements, but also some of the best circus I’ve seen. While there were a couple of weaker points, the overall story was clear and the acrobatics and skill were brilliant. Particular love for the multi-talented artists who all had a number of roles throughout the night and completely broke out of the traditional roles of strong man, contortionist, and acrobat.

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LADY RIZO: RED, WHITE & INDIGO ****1/2
A bonus show for Blake and I, this American cabaret artist is brilliantly talented, entertaining, and was a definite highlight of the Festival. Very American humour and criticism of the current President, this is a “love story to her abusive boyfriend, the USA” but makes for an entertaining evening of brilliant singing and performance.

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BACKBONE *****
An incredible work of physical strength, teamwork and trust, Backbone shows how years of attuning to each other’s bodies can allow incredible feats. For a wonderful exploration of the creation of this show, with plenty of clips from it, check out Carnival Cinema’s short film series. It tracks their work and the achievement that is the four-high – literally four people standing on each others shoulders – a move the director called the Holy Grail of circus.

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BRIEFS: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS *****
This boylesque cabaret really impressed last Festival, but this year shows just how far they’ve come. An amazing show of detailed choreography, brilliant independent acts all tied together by the best hosting drag queen you’ve ever seen. This is always going to be a favourite of the Festival.

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MONROE & ASSOCIATES *****
A one-on-one interactive “choose your own adventure”, this show is an incredible concept beautifully executed. A single actor supports you through a journey of clue-finding and crime-solving, being available as operator Nancy and able to put you through to anyone in the world. A completely one of a kind experience and different for every single person, the journey and adventure that was had cannot be surpassed.

Love Always,
Alana

2018 Book Challenge

It seems that after years of “challenges” encouraging us to read more, Blake and I have finally found our niche and will again be completing a 52 Book Challenge. There are no restrictions on what we read, and the only expectation is to get through one book per week across the year – some weeks being easier than others.

Blake didn’t quite achieve his goal last year, and I only managed mine with the luxury of time at the end of the year, but we’re excited to keep going and read some more books.

ALANA
For full reviews and ratings, head to my instagram @what.rae.read

  1. More Than This by Patrick Ness
  2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  3. Warcross by Marie Lu
  4. This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
  5. Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt
  6. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
  7. Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
  8. Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
  9. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  10. Scythe by Neal Schusterman
  11. Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  12. The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (audiobook)
  13. City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
  14. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
  15. Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab

BLAKE

  1. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
  2. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
  3. Horns by Joe Hill
  4. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  5. Hangman by Jack Heath
  6. Into The Water by Paula Hawkins
  7. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
  8. Rebel Without A Crew, or How A 23-year-old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became A Hollywood Player by Robert Rodriguez
  9. Armada by Ernest Cline
  10. Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  11. Artemis by Andy Weir

Love always,
Alana

Top Books of 2017

I’ve definitely been more into reading this year, a reinvigoration which I can track to a few different things. Instagram and the ‘bookstagram’ community which inspired me to create a new account to track and review all the books I read; this year’s challenge of 52 Books which allowed me to read anything I wanted; a subscription to The YA Chronicles meaning goodies get delivered to me each month; and overall embracing my love of Young Adult Fiction, allowing me to just read what I want and go with it. So, I thought it was time to pursue this rekindled love and share some more thoughts on all the YA Fiction (because honestly there might have only been one exception read this year) for 2017. Of the 53 I read, I’ve knocked it down to a Top 5…

five. Otherworld by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller
“Simon thought Otherworld was a game. Turns out he knew nothing. Otherworld is the next phase of reality. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted.”
This Ready Player One style novel is a fun adventure through various challenges and events for the protagonist to save his love interest.
Perfect for adventure-lovers, and sci-fi fans.

four. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
“The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.”
A fanciful journey exploring an alternate reality of war, mystery, love, and heritage. It was definitely the creative world of Laini Taylor – I adored the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series and would recommend it as the introduction to this author – but Strange definitely provided something new and beautiful.
Perfect for fantasy lovers and fanciful adventurers.

three. The Mortal Instruments Series and The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare
“Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.”
While I started The Mortal Instruments last year, both of these series (the latter being a prequel) were definite favourites of mine. I even got into the trashy TV adaptation because it brought me back into the world of the Shadowhunters that I love so much.
Perfect for binge-readers, fantasy and alternate reality fans.

two. Renegades by Marissa Meyer
“The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies—humans with extraordinary abilities—who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew. Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice—and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.”
This book was a total surprise to me. Coming in The YA Chronicles November box, it wasn’t something I would’ve likely bought for myself, or even really gotten into, but the story did intrigue me enough to take it on, and boy did I love it! Action, adventure, just the right amount of love-interest, and the righteousness of villains and heroes explored beautifully. With the subtle inclusion of gay dads. It was hard to put down and while I’d been earlier hoping it was a stand-alone to avoid this pain, I can’t wait for the next book because the ending and entire story of this one were just so great.
Perfect for lovers of super heroes, antiheroes, action, adventure, and kick-ass females.

one. Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian
“Since Ava lost Kelly, things haven’t been going so well. Even before she gets thrown out of school for shouting at the principal, there’s the simmering rage and all the weird destructive choices. The only thing going right for Ava is her job at Magic Kebab.
Which is where she meets Gideon. Skinny, shy, anxious Gideon. A mad poet and collector of vinyl records with an aversion to social media. He lives in his head. She lives in her grief. The only people who can help them move on with their lives are each other.”
Since I know the author, I was totally supportive of this book before I’d even read it, but the quality of writing and honest reflection that I found blew me away. I absolutely adored this novel, was entranced by the characters and their struggles, loved the chapter-for-chapter style that I enjoy so much, and was so pleased that this debut was such an incredible read.
Perfect for angsty teens, fans of reality-based YA Fiction, and anyone else.

So, that’s my top picks for this year. I can’t wait to read new and exciting books in 2018, look out for our new challenge!

Love Always,
Alana

Since You’ve Been Gone…

It’s been a while since we were in the beautiful, chilly hills of New Zealand, and while I’ve intended to write a few blogs since that post, I apparently have never quite gotten there. So, while there have been some downs the last few months, I wanted to focus on the positive and list a few of the self-improvement steps I’ve taken in the past few months.

one. I took a pottery class…
While I’m very lucky to work in the creative industries, I haven’t had a hands-on creative outlet since uni. So I thought I’d challenge myself creatively and emotionally, signing up for 8 classes of pottery where I could learn a new skill and meet some new people outside of work. (It’s been amazing!)

two. I kept reading…
I’ve stayed on track with my 52 Books challenge, maintaining my book a week average. Sure, they’ve been easy to read YA Fiction novels, but that’s what I love to read.

three. I became an Instagram sensation…
Well, I started a new Instagram account purely for my love of books. I write my reviews there and share cute pics that are purely YA related.

four. I applied for a job in Canberra…
Back to the awful experience of applying for jobs and establishing myself in a new city, a process made slightly easier by finding and applying for what seems like my perfect job! Most annoyingly, I’m still waiting on a reply, but fingers crossed all will fall into place very soon!**

five. We celebrated one year of marriage….
Sure, it unfortunately fell during a bit of a rough patch, but coming out the other side together and stronger is what marriage is all about, right? It was still a pretty exciting milestone and makes us all the more excited for our next steps together.

A lot more has happened, but those are some things I’m pretty happy with as we head to the end of the year.

Love Always,
Alana

**Sadly I didn’t get the job. Very disappointing, but there’s lots more to go for and something perfect will come through in the end.