Sunday, May 30, 2010


I have just returned from a trip to South Australia to visit a dear friend who moved to Adelaide last year. I have never ventured into the land of SA before so I was rather excited!! Subsequently things have been a bit quiet on the blog front. Here are some of my trip highlights:

Met some geese and some pheasants at Maggie Beer's farmhouse in the Adelaide Hills.

Had a wander around the Botanic Gardens.

Visited the beautiful German town of Hahndorf, it was like going back in time in Europe. I love autumn.

And did some baking with some obviously pro-feminist cornflour. What? I wonder if you can use it if you aren't a nurse!! Lucky we both were!!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Awesome Art

A friend of mine entered a drawing in a competition here in Brisbane with his amazing 'Cock'. Don't get funny... He drew this with a biro, incredible!

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wolf Hall Wednesday

It is Wednesday once again which means Wolf Hall discussion!! Here is what Melissa, Leah and I thought:

1. We've spent a lot of time with Henry VIII now. What do you think of him as a king?
Amused By Books: It's fascinating to me how everyone's world revolves around this one man. I know that our tide shifts a lot when we elect a new president but this seems a little ridiculous. His every whim is met without question. I don't necessarily thing Henry is portrayed as a bad or selfish person, it just amazes me how someone is given so much power, and yet, will bow to Anne Boleyn. It's all very interesting.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries: I have this slovenly, overweight, overindulged, Henry VIII in my brain, when in fact, he doesn’t sound like that at all. I suppose that caricature comes much later in his life, but in my reading, my brain still wants to project that image. I’ve admitted to being a closet anglophile (how many days did I cry when Diana died??!!!), but this royalty thing, even now, is really over the top. That he can summons Cromwell to his bedside in the middle of the night (and he has to travel by BOAT to get there) to discuss a dream is mind boggling. And with regards to Anne Boleyn – it goes back to my “rules” theory – he wants her so bad, because he CAN’T have her. I don’t think it is anything particularly unique to Anne herself, it is that the church says he can’t divorce Katherine (who I like more and more, by the way – are there any books on Katherine we can read?!) and Anne won’t give him what he wants, when EVERYONE else does.

OK, can I add a question: Why on earth to they keep referring to Mary as a “shrimp?” Is she THAT ugly???
ABB: I was thinking it was because she was shy? It could be because she's ugly!
Yes - we need to research some Katherine books once we are done that we can read because I agree, she is an intriguing figure!

Once, Oh Marvelous Once: I agree with both of you, I am so surprised that during this time a woman can have so much sway over such a powerful man. And this has proven to be historically accurate as well (still struggling to figure out the fact/fiction divide here!!). I'm getting more and more caught up in this story. I feel so ignorant about my historical knowledge and feel that I should know more given that I recently visited the Tower of London. I'm now listening to an audio dramatisation of Henry VIII by Shakespeare, most of my literary endeavours have to do with Henry at the moment. How is he so fascinating? And I can't help but think of him as overweight and very severe, as his portraits portray.

2. How are you keeping all of the characters straight?
ABB: Am I, really? Well the only thing that's helping is the fact that I have a degree in History but this wasn't my favourite time period. I'll tell you what is really helping is the proliferation of novels set in this time period that I've read recently. I don't find myself flipping to that chart at the front of the book. It's too dense of a book to waste extra time. I'm just kind of barreling through!

GDD: Um…I’m not. There was a dinner scene I just finished, and when I got to the end, I thought, “who were those people?” The biggest mysteries: Brereton, Cranmer (another Thomas! Ugh!) Wriothesley – I have no idea what roles they play, other than they keep getting mentioned. But I’m doing the same – I can’t take the time to go back to the front as a reference – I just keep turning the pages hoping that it will all make sense in the end. And honestly, I know he plays an important role after Wolsey, but I still can’t figure out Thomas More.

Oh, and this has nothing to do with your question, but I was really disappointed in her treatment of Wolsey’s death. So anticlimactic.

ABB: Totally agree about the death being anti-climactic! They went on and on about how much money it would cost to bring him from wherever he was in hiding and how much Cromwell loved him and then, poof, he was dead. He was this character that was hated by so many, you would think that people would have been cheering in the streets while Cromwell would have been crying over the death of his mentor.

OOMO: I'm really not keeping track of the characters at all I don't think. New ones get introduced, like in the dinner party you mentioned and I have no idea where they have come from!! And they all STILL have the same names. Wolsey hasn't died for me yet (but don't worry, I figured he was going to, the story is 500 years old!) but I don't know how I will feel about it when it occurs, I still haven't got my head around him and decided whether I like him or not!! I am finding the characterisation still very convoluted at this stage.

3. Wolf Hall has finally been mentioned. What kind of role do you expect it might play in upcoming events in the book?
ABB: Well if I understand what's happened correctly Wolf Hall is the ancestral home of the Seymour's and if I understand my history correctly, after Anne Boleyn, King Henry will go on to marry Jane Seymour so possibly Cromwell will help with that all at Wolf Hall. I don't know, just throwing out guesses here.

GDD: Totally agree. But so far, Mantel doesn’t portray Jane very well either. Like she is this fly on the wall -- kind of mysterious and unnoticed. I’m only speculating, but is she the one that starts the rumors about Anne and her brother George having a relationship?

OOMO: Going from MY historical knowledge of this time period, namely Wikipedia, Jane Seymour is the next next Queen, the third wife. I think there is definitely going to be something fishy going on with her, good thinking of the incest rumours!! I remember those from The Other Boleyn Girl (movie!!). I was very excited by the mention of Wolf Hall, I felt as though I was achieving something finally. Not that I'm not enjoying it, but it is a hard slog. It is like reading Anna Karenina and feeling very good about yourself when you make it to one of the few chapters that Anna is featured in. Hmm, I'm being facetious...

Anyone else out there reading Wolf Hall? Have you read it? What did you think?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Ah where to begin Sarah Waters? Where to begin? 'The Night Watch' is my favourite sort of book, an ensemble drama of sorts, random characters with connections that become "unveiled" as the story progresses. And I think this is one of the best of those I have read.

'The Night Watch' revolves around 4 main characters and is set between 1941 and 1947. Kay drove an ambulance during the war but has become a ghost of sorts since, wandering the streets in men's clothing, drifting. Helen is a kind girl working in a post-war dating agency who deals with issues of past betrayal. In this office works Vivien, a glamour girl, who continues to pursue an affair with a married soldier she met during the war. The final character is Duncan, Vivien's brother, who served the final years of the war in prison.

This book works backwards, a fantastic narrative technique if done well, as it has been here. The story begins in 1947 and travels backwards, slowly and ever so enticingly revealing how each character arrived in their current circumstance. I found this book utterly heartbreaking at times. This book explores World War II from the perspective of London civilians in a realistic and non-apologetic manner, yet allows it to be the setting for the story, not the basis of the plot. The story involved air raids, rationing and gruesome tragedy without making it about this, the focus was still on the characters and their experiences whether they were war-related or not. 

Sarah Waters is so wonderful at character development, they are so real, vulnerable. This book explores homosexuality during the war, being a woman during the war, imprisonment during the war, love and loss during the war, without being about the war. She describes the normal human emotions that are somewhat heightened by the stress and tension of this time.
She felt capable of anything! She finished her coffee, her mind racing. She was thinking of all the things she could do. She could give up her job! She could leave Streatham, take a little flat all to herself! She could call up Reggie! Her heart jumped. She could find a telephone box, right now. She could call him up and tell him - what? That she was through with him, for ever! That she forgave him; but that forgiving wasn't enough... The possibilities made her giddy. Maybe she'd never do any of these things. But oh, how marvellous it was, just to know that she could!
Haven't you felt just that? That exact feeling? I could never have put that into words. And such simple things in this book that made me ache for the characters, Helen's fear of rejection when her lover doesn't come home one night, and the despair and vulnerability...
"I had to have dinner all on my own. I stood right here, at the bloody oven, and ate it with my apron on."
 I actually cried then. Oh the humiliation of love and loneliness.

This was a fantastically poignant and moving book. I felt the adventure of air raids, the despair of loss, the excitement of new love, the hopelessness of war. I want to read it again, but the true joy in reading this book is not knowing where it is going. Once I told an elderly lady that I was reading 'Anna Karenina' and she said "How wonderful! I long to read that for the very first time again." So go and read this book, and enjoy it for the 'very first time', it is wonderful.

Have you read this? What did you think?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wolf Hall Wednesday

Wow, it is Wednesday again!! How did that happen? What have I done with my week in the meantime? Well I have clocked up 12 hours of overtime this week, it is winter which means more sick kiddies, which means more work. It is only May and proper winter doesn't kick in until about June/July in Brisbane so this week has just been a teaser of what is to come!! So I have spent today madly reading 'Wolf Hall' to catch up on my 100 pages for this week, because amongst all the running around at work, not much reading has occurred.

Wolf Hall Wednesdays is hosted by Leah from Amused by Books and Melissa from Gerbera Daisy Diaries and is a read along in which we aim to read 100 pages a week of Wolf Hall. Moral support for the big books!! However due to some sad unforeseen circumstances, Leah is unable to participate in Wolf Hall Wednesdays for a while so I have filled in on the question answering front. Melissa has asked the questions this week, here is what we thought.

To this point, what or who do you find the most intriguing:
Gerbera Daisy Diaries:  This story is not new – it’s the subject of many historical fiction novels, it’s been made into a major motion picture – but overall, I’m surprised at how fresh Mantel’s writing makes this feel.  This conflict with Henry/Katherine/Anne/Wolsey/Norfolk/Suffolk – could be any modern day powerplay.  Cromwell could just as easily be a Hollywood agent as he tries to get his “client” the King, what he wants.  It just shows that human nature is really timeless. People having been trying to “have their cake and eat it too” for millennia.  Also, Cromwell is fascinating.  He survives (or it seems he will – I haven’t gotten to that point) his association with Wolsey to become an advisor to the King. Washington lobbyists could be so lucky!
Once, Oh Marvellous Once: I don't know this story hugely well, I have a friend who is Henry VIII mad and want to call her and find out the specifics because I am so confused!! I'm also confused by popular culture and history and really struggling to take this as a story in itself, and not a strict true historical account. I keep thinking back to The Other Boleyn Girl (of which I have only seen the film, not read the book) which is apparently quite fictional, and am completely confused now!! However I am really interested in the character of Rafe, a young man taken in by Thomas Cromwell. He seems like a smart kid and I feel that he is important to the story. Not sure where it's going with him or if I'm right though!!

So far, Anne is still on the periphery, but do you have any thoughts or feelings about her:
GDD:  Years ago, there was a book written (in the States anyway) called “The Rules.”  In its essence it  was written as a template to find the man of your dreams by doing, or not doing, certain things.  Every time Anne is referenced or introduced in dialogue I immediately think, “She was the FIRST Rules woman!”  She used every womanly sexual instinct (good and bad) to get what she wanted.  Not sure Henry was the man of her dreams after all, since she lost her head over him.  But it worked for awhile.  Also, and this is a segue, but, Henry and Anne remind me of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, two people who couldn’t live with or without each other for very long. 
OOMO: Well I know that she is going to end up headless at the end of this story! I feel that she is a bit of a femme fatale, that she will do anything to get her way. Mary (her sister) has identified her virtue of 'perseverance' and I think it is historically clear that this is true. Anne is like that girl at school that you never speak to, but know about. She is always around and always the centre of gossip but not someone that you would ever have the courage to speak to or even want to speak to. She is also currently too much on the periphery for me to feel any emotional connection or empathy towards her.

What, if any, are your thoughts on the religious conflict?
GDD:  Not being Catholic, I’m at a disadvantage of not knowing doctrine or cannon law to understand the intricacies of what happened, but as a spiritual/religious person, I’m gobsmacked that this was so ruthless, political and so NOT spiritual.  Now, I’m not totally na├»ve to know that the Papacy was not the most honorable institution at this time and prone to corruption, but the wheeling and dealing that took place to get this done, initially, is against all that I believe.
OOMO: This isn't something that has really affected me so far. Is that a terribly naive and ignorant thing to say about this book? Probably! I understand that during this time period, Henry's desire for a marriage annulment or divorce resulted in the creation of the Church of England as a separate entity and resulted in Henry VIII's excommunication by the Pope. It is so ruthless and cunning that I find it difficult to associate this with any form of fact. At the moment for me, it is great as part of a fictional plot, but I think once I've finished and reflect I will be able to appreciate the impact of it all.

I am really enjoying this book, more than I expected. I read 100 pages today and will admit that a bit of skimming occurred and that I probably missed some important things. Well I know I missed some things as I often zoned out and had to go back. This book is full of details and therefore it is a bit slow, things don't happen quickly, but it is so rich and absorbing that it doesn't matter.

I'm looking forward to the next 100!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Electron Boy Saves the Day

My brother emailed me this news story from The Seattle Times about a young boy named Erik Martin who is living with cancer and was recently granted his wish by the Make A Wish Foundation. I am a paediatric nurse and though I now work in a general medical ward, I spent a while in paediatric oncology (cancer) and looked after several children in the same state as young Erik.

Erik has always wanted to be a superhero and this wish was finally granted by the Make A Wish Foundation in Seattle. He started the morning with a phone call from Spider Man who desperately needed the assistance of Electron Boy, Erik's alter ego. Electron Boy rushed to save the Seattle Sounders who had been locked in a locker room at Qwest Field. He travelled in a superhero car along a closed down highway with police escort. The team were ever so grateful for his help, but the day wasn't over for Erik. The evil Dr Dark and Blackout Boy were threatening to plunge the city of Seattle into darkness! But Erik saved the day again.

This is one of the most heartwarming stories I have ever read. To see a whole city making such an extreme effort to bring the dream of a very unwell boy to life is so wonderful, life-affirming and joyous. This is a day that Erik will treasure forever, and the difference it would have made on his health is immense. Make A Wish is such a wonderful organisation and I have seen some very happy faces and happy families as a result of them.

And Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers out there!! Hope you were spoilt rotten by your children!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Review: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

My Dear Lucy, 
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,
C. S. Lewis.

Was there ever a better book dedication than this?? I remember when I bought 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows' (at 9:01am) and sat in my car and read the dedication and burst into tears (at 9:02am) and I just thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever read. Well now I have found another tear-inducing dedication. And really, what is more moving than a tear-inducing dedication in a book?

However I am not here to review the dedication (although that is an idea, maybe I'll start a dedication day, as it is one of my favourite bits of the book!), I am going to review the actual book. I am 24 and have NEVER read this book. I didn't have a horribly deprived childhood cut off from literature, I actually was too chicken. I saw an episode of the (very old) television series and was really really really scared and subsequently never picked it up. So I decided to rectify this.

I just loved this book. I experienced it through the wonder of audio book, narrated by Michael York, and it was a such delightful medium! I was able to 'read' it almost completely innocently, I haven't seen the movie, and I didn't really know too much about it so I loved the story unfolding as though it was completely new to me. I am sure most people have read, or at least know the premise of 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe'. Four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, are evacuated from London during WWII, to a grand house in the countryside. In this house they discover a wardrobe leading to another world, the beautiful land of Narnia, a place stuck in a perpetual winter, though never Christmas. In control of this place is the White Witch who has had a tyrannical rule for many years. However Aslan, the true King of Narnia, is on the move, and along with the children, and several magical creatures along the way, sets out to defeat the witch.

I really can't fault this book, it is a true classic. There is no wonder that it has survived years and still delights children today. This book is full of adventure, tragedy, magic, love and comedy. I found myself chuckling quite often, and often found myself with tears in my eyes. And by 'tears in my eyes' I mean 'actually crying'. I don't really know what else I can say about this, except that if you haven't read it, make it a priority!! And remember, it is very foolish to lock oneself in a wardrobe. So be careful!!

I've reviewed this also as part of Carl's Once Upon A Time Challenge. Check it out here, plenty of awesome fantastical reviews!!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wolf Hall Wednesday

Amused by Books and Gerbera Daisy Diaries are hosting a Wolf Hall Read-a-thon. What a brilliant idea!! This has serendipitously coincided with my decision to read Wolf Hall so I have decided to participate in the read-a-thon because I felt a bit daunted by the book. So the aim is to read 100 pages a week, quite an achievable goal, and so far, I'm on track!! Fabulous!!

So my initial fear of reading Wolf Hall has been completely unfounded, yes it is a big book, yes it is set in the 1500's, yes it has about 1500 characters (with a list of characters in the beginning, a foreboding sign), and yes it won the Booker Prize, but for once, I am finding these all endearing attributes!! I thought I would really struggle through this book but am finding reading it a breeze.

I love the atmosphere in this book. There is something ever so wonderful about England in the 1500's, well England at all, and I just feel it. I can feel the early darkness, the candlelight, the cobblestones, the cardinal's robes, the barge travel. Everything is alive in this book. I don't feel like I am reading a historical novel here, the language flows and is easy to understand, the story is littered with real life characters and despite my poor historical knowledge, I know enough to be excited by where this book is heading.

My only criticism of this book so far is that all the characters seem to be called Thomas. Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More, Thomas Wosely, Thomas Boleyn... I find I have to keep flicking back to remind myself which Thomas is which!! However this cannot be a criticism of Hilary Mantel, or her book, simply a criticism of Tudor England, a time in which the glossary of baby names consisted of a mere 6! Thomas, Henry, George, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary.

I also find it funny what the characters look like in my head. Due to the vast representation of these characters in various media, my visualisation of them is a mish-mash of historical art and popular culture. This results in this Henry VIII:

Image from here

dancing at Court with this Anne Boleyn:
Image from here

I'm very much looking forward to the next 100 pages. This read-a-thon is super cool.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Teaser Tuesday - The Night Watch

teasertuesdays31 Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
I have never participated in this, but always really enjoy reading other teasers. It seems so naughty reading ahead doesn't it? I am currently reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters.

She was looking over his shoulder, still scanning the faces of passers-by. Then she took in what he'd said - and the contrast between what he was thinking and the real reason she was here seemed, all at once, to defeat her.

Page 127.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Miss Universe

My friend Erin has just been selected for the Queensland final of the Miss Universe heats!! While I have a complete moral objection to Miss Universe and how superficial it is (and the fact that it is judging people on their appearance and half the contestants clearly suffer from eating disorders), I am rather excited for her, especially since I am her 'Official Dress Designer'. I made this dress for her for Miss Universe heat last year and it wasn't successful, however this year it seems to have worked a charm!!

Here is Erin (picture from last year) and my dress!!