Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mrs Readalot's Dreams (of Gods and Monsters) Come True

When the most anticipated book in years landed on Mrs Readalot's doorstep she literally screamed. It was a happy shriek, followed by a happy dance, a ripping of packaging, a kissing of book and a waltz around the room.

Sometimes you find that rare series by a rare writer which combines all the elements for a fabulous escape into alternate realities.

Laini Taylor is that rare writer, The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is that rare series.
Deeply satisfying, grounded in gritty reality, populated with memorable characters, paced just right, it is filled with twists and turns, action, adventure, heartbreak, romance, mystery and magic. Fantasy that rises above its genre, books that demand to be read and re-read, handed on and recommended to all.

Mrs Readalot began with the first two books, recommended by a friend, devoured over the summer (in a matter of days, it must be said - good books don't last long around here).

Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the first. Full of surprises. Addictive. More-ish. She read them on Kindle and was done in a little over a day, and was hungry for more. Thankfully Mrs Readalot had also downloaded Book Two - Days of Blood and Starlight. The first book finished, the second book was begun immediately.

But this was January. And it was months (three long months!) until April when Book Three was due to be published.

Mrs Readalot tried to slow down, tried to savour every page, chew over every twist and turn but all too soon it was over and the wait began.
April 8th, the day the world could finally learn the fate of Karou, Akiva, Ziri et al.

The days passed. Every so often Mrs Readalot did a mental tally and worked out how long was left to wait.
Until finally miracle of miracles, she was given the opportunity to get the final instalment ahead of time, straight from the publishers - O Happy day! This is why there was dancing.
Dreams do come true, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters was worth the wait.

In Mrs Readalot's own words:

I loved this book, I loved this series, I now love this author. Laini Taylor is a word-wizard. The worlds she created feel so real, so gritty I can almost taste the dust. Just when you think you know what it's all about, there's another layer revealed and everything comes clearer. Little details buried in the text were not throwaway loose threads but were keys to something deeper.
The worlds were not as we thought, there was more. Magic has a price, a terrible price.
And in Laini's hands, magic makes sense. It is the very fabric of the universe.

I love that there are no leaps of logic required here, no suspension of credibility. Laini makes magic possible; she makes other worlds likely.

This is why I love her.

She is clever enough to leave no loose ends while at the same timenot resorting to a sickly sweet Happily Ever After. There is instead: Satisfaction. Understanding. And Hope (which is after all the meaning of Karou's name).

Best of all this book leaves room for another series, while still satisfactorily concluding this one. Oh Laini, you are too awesome.

I won't tell you what happens because I hate spoilers, I won't give you many details because you need to read this for yourself. Really. You must.

So go. Now. Get this series. Get this book. You will love it I promise.


Who should read this book:
  • people with awesome imaginations
  • people who love action-love-alternatereality stories
  • lovers of great writing
  • people who like their magic a bit gritty
  • people who love to sink their teeth into other worlds
  • lovers of well-written fiction
  • lovers of strong female protagonists
  • people who love originality and adventure in their stories
Avoid this book if:
  • You have no imagination, no sense of adventure, no love of magic, and your favourite author is Stephen Hawking.

Get Laini Taylor Books on Book Depository (with free shipping worldwide)
Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter, Me and Mine

I love chocolate as much as the next girl, but that's not why I love Easter. Cute little bunnies and hunting for eggs don't really do that much for me, though I'm not opposed to either. Hot Cross Buns...? Mmmmm, even better than the chocolate in my book, but that's still not what makes this time of year special for me.

Easter is the most significant date on the Christian calendar. It's more of a big deal than Christmas, more meaningful, more essential to my faith.
Without Easter, really, Christianity wouldn't exist. I certainly wouldn't be sitting here on a Saturday typing this, feeling compelled to write something that expresses the depth of my feeling about the true meaning behind this holiday.

I was flicking through the TV Guide searching for something - anything - that the programmers might have done as a nod of respect to Good Friday or Resurrection Sunday. I found Enchanted, The Wizard of Oz, Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion and Hop. At least Hop is in keeping with the chocolatey aspects of Easter, but it truly bothered me that there was not one single programme relating to the true meaning: Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

Easter gives us all a holiday. Couldn't the powers-that-be have at least buried the Passion of the Christ  (or Jesus of Nazareth) after midnight somewhere? Just a nod to the guy who bled and died so we could have a long weekend?

[Nan and Grandad joined us for our Easter Dinner; we were kind and didn't make anyone dress up this year]

It really can be hard sometimes in such a secular world to keep the traditions and meaning alive not just for yourself and your own faith, but to pass them on to your children.
When everything is all about eggs and bunnies, and Jesus doesn't get a mention anywhere, you have to be pretty deliberate or the meaning will start to erode right in your own back yard.

My early schooling was at Catholic School, so the meaning of Easter was front and centre for weeks leading up to it. There was Ash Wednesday and giving things up for Lent; there were masses and Easter cards (with crosses, not bunnies). I was just a little girl but I counted down sleeps imagining what Jesus was going through "this time one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-seventy-eight years ago".
It was so real to me; his sacrifice and his suffering made a huge impression.
(Hats off to the Catholics for being so awesome at keeping beautiful traditions - something I think us "Happy Clappies" can learn a lot from).

On Easter Thursday night I was right there with Peter as he stood around the fire in the courtyard, wanting to stay true to Jesus but scared what might happen if he admitted to following him. I knew I would have denied him too; I understand the pain he felt when Jesus looked at him when the cock crowed.
Good Friday night I felt hollow and empty as I imagined what Mary Magdalene felt when she saw Jesus laid in the tomb; I imagined her tears on Sunday morning when she thought someone had stolen his body and her unbelievable joy when the man she thought was the gardener turned out to be Jesus, resurrected, who cared enough about her to wipe her tears away.

Now as an adult I have more understanding of what Jesus went through, both physically, emotionally, spiritually. It moves me deeply that He went through all that for us; that He loved us enough to stay hanging on that Cross (when he could have called the angels to get him down), in the hope that we would choose Him, and be reconciled to God through Him.

Faith can't be put upon anyone. I can't make my children into Christians, I can't force them to choose Christ. I can only hope that they find a faith of their own, that Jesus becomes real to them, that his love and sacrifice makes an impression on them as it did for me.

What I can do is share what it means to me. I can tell them the stories and pass on the insights. The rest is between them and God.

So each Easter, amidst plenty of eye-rolling we plan an Easter dinner. There is not a bunny or a chocolate egg in sight (though those do show up Sunday). We have candles, we eat spiced lamb, pita bread, hummus and olives. We drink red wine (or grape juice).

By the time we sit down to our Easter feast there is no more eye rolling. They are into it after all. We tell the story around the table. The kids ask questions and share what they know. We take a moment, pause, and focus on Jesus.

We do this in remembrance of Him. His body, broken for us; His blood, shed for us.
We ponder the curtain in the Temple that tore from top to bottom when He died, to symbolise that the way was now open between God and humanity.

It's worth celebrating, worth remembering and worth paying tribute to.

Happy Easter everyone ... I hope you can take a moment to think about the reason for the season while you munch your chocolate eggs.


We started doing Easter dinners back in 2009 when the kids were really little.
The first year Mr G and I dressed up as "Peter" and "Mary" and time travelled from 30AD to tell the story of what happened. Other years we've had friends over, dressed up in sheets and towels, eaten delicious food.
Here is our collection of Easter Dinners through the years...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Baby No More

He's just turned six and he won't let us call him "bubba" any more.

He has been on the sidelines at soccer games since he was in-vitro and his first outing on a soccer field the other week, he showed us just how much he's absorbed all these years watching his brother. His skills were surprising, his goals were amazing. He got Player of the Day, first up, and glowed with pride.

He's tall. He's strong. He's fast.

Yesterday he came second in the school cross country - which made his birthday extra special, especially after what happened last year. He's been  waiting a whole year to prove to himself he could do it, and he DID.

Scrag has been blogged about almost all his life; he's used to having every moment recorded for posterity.

Sometimes when I look at him, this tall strong boy, I think my heart will burst. Truly.

 He's just a super awesome kid.

I'm proud to have this lad, this lovely boy as my son.

Yesterday I said to him, If six years ago somebody had offered me a choice between a million bucks and a baby called Scrag, do you know what I would choose?

He said, The million bucks of course.
I said, No way. Even if they offered me a Billion I'd still pick YOU. That's just money. But you're a TREASURE.

And it's true, he is.
So happy birthday darling Scrag.
You're growing up so fast. You're a baby no more.

And I am proud of the person that you are becoming.
All my love forever

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Not-so-Plain Party (kids birthday party on a budget)

The measure of a good birthday party is not whether it's picture perfect and looks like it could be featured in Donna Hay's Party Edition.
It's how wide the smiles of the kids are. It's how happy the birthday boy is and how hard he hugs you when he says, "Thankyou mama for an awesome party."

That's success right there; that's what you do it for. Not for pretty pinnable pictures or accolades from fellow bloggers - you do it for the shining eyes and happy laughter of your child and his pals as they have FUN.

By which standard I would say that Scrag's Just Plain Party was a resounding success.

Our "just plain party-on-a-budget" was created to the birthday boy's exacting specifications. Every game played, every item of food on the party table, every guest on the list, were all according to his wishes.

The birthday boy counts down the sleeps, crossing off each day on his calendar. Until finally the day dawns clear and sunny, despite the weatherman's predictions of rain.

[my sketchy "Scrag" figure from the invitation was printed out large and used as decoration ]

When guests arrive there are Dressups to change into, in our carport boutique. (We culled our costume collection and donated double-ups and outgrown items to our happy young guests).

Our resident Face Painters are also on hand to decorate the faces of party guests...

Who needs professionals when you have clever big sisters like Fab and Yaz around?

Game time begins with energy-burning Sack Races...

We use old pillowcases for the sacks and have several rounds, followed by  a "plate" and a "cup" final. The paparazzi are there to interview the winners...

It is hilarious (as well as easy to organise and fun to do).

Next up, Musical Mats. Fun and super easy.

We play the music and make them dance. Each round we take away a mat; the music stops and the dancers race to find a place to stand. We keep going until we have a winner. Or two.

[toadstool mats re-used from our fairy party; super easy to make]

It's thirsty work, all that jumping in sacks and dancing on toadstools. Just as well we have refreshing old-fashioned (homemade) lemonade on hand...

We catch our breath by sitting down for a game of Pass the Parcel - with a twist...

Between each layer is the ubiquitous lollipop, for sure, but every so often there's a note instead, daring them to take up a challenge in order to get their sweet treat...

[Stuff marshmallows in your mouth and say "fluffy bunnies"; hop on one foot for ten seconds
while patting your head; sing the national anthem - a few simple dares liven up this classic party game ]

The random dares keep things moving; it livens things up and keeps them all on their toes.
While they've been passing the parcel, I've been hiding treasure hunt tickets around the garden (for after we eat) and bringing out the food.

And now finally it's time for the colourful birthday feast...

We have all the party food favourites on offer: pikelets with sprinkles, red cocktail sausages, chips, popcorn, mini donuts and fruit skewers, as requested by the birthday boy.

We also have rainbow jellies and cupcakes...

(which I am rather proud of, I must say)
Finished eating? Had enough sugar? It must be Treasure Hunt time...

Hunt around the garden, in trees, under tables, inside letterboxes. You're looking for yellow tickets...

Look around the garden - there's some on the driveway too... Hey! Why is everyone rushing off to the driveway? Two canny lassies stay back and scoop the pool, finding loads of tickets while everyone else scours the driveway. Kids are so funny. But don't worry - everyone finds a ticket and gets a prize. Eventually.

We're almost out of time. Oops almost forgot  to do the birthday cake. We can't have that!

"Happy birthday dear Scrag, happy birthday to you...." we sing (tunelessly).

The party guests leave wearing their upcycled dressup outfits, sporting facepaint, lugging more upcycled prizes and a goody bag filled with sweets (just in case that gleam in their eye is from having so much fun not so much sugar).

The birthday boy is happy. He hugs me and tells me he loves me.
We pulled it off. A themeless classic kids birthday party, filled with colour and fun for ten guests costing under $100 for everything.
It's possible. I just proved it.

And didn't we all have such a loverly time?