Thoughts of Grace

I walked down Queen Street, in central Auckland, today and heard a busker singing this song as I walked past people lighting candles to go with the tributes left for Grace Millane.

I don’t often blog about current events.  In the 18 years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve probably blogged about national or global events ten or so times where the news has not directly impacted me.  It’s not something that I do.  I’m not interested in current affairs or politics.  But every now and then, I am touched, saddened, heartened or angered by such things.  I am emotionally affected, and therefore it seems appropriate to share that.

What makes Grace’s story so different from others?  Others have died.  Others have been murdered.  People as young or younger.  People with as much potential or more.  The truth is, I don’t know what makes Grace’s story different.  Only that it is.

My colleagues at work have discussed Grace.  Perhaps that’s because we work literally next door to the hotel in which she was murdered.  Perhaps it is because she is being discussed in offices around the country.  I have overheard people talking about her on the train.  And she has been discussed at home.

Every day as I walk past the hotel on my way to work, I see the tributes that people have left for Grace.  Flowers, gifts, etc.  From people who didn’t know Grace.  From people who never met Grace and never will.  People are grieving for someone they have never met.

I haven’t been following anything on social media, but I did notice there were a few people climbing on their soap boxes.  Saying that those who condemned Grace for travelling alone were perpetuating the cycle of violence against women. That any woman should be able to travel alone and be safe.  I agree.  I agree that any woman travelling alone should be safe.  But it is not the way it is.  I am reminded of the John Lennon song, Imagine.  There are so many dreams and wishes we might have for society, that every person should live in peace and never go without food, clean water, shelter and love.  But that’s not the way it is either.  Does that mean we don’t want it?  No, we do want it.  Does that mean we do nothing for those who are suffering?  Turn a blind eye?  No, it does not.  But it also does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the risks that are out there in the world.

I have been saddened by Grace’s death, and she has been much on my thoughts this week.  I don’t think she is a lesson to be learned.  But it is a tragedy.  As a mother of a daughter, I am very saddened by Grace’s death.  And I felt compelled to write something, to commemorate her.

She spoke memories

She spoke of home in hushed whispers,
far away eyes caught on a memory of Christmas sparkles,
flashes of multi-coloured hues,
framed by snow that resembled icing
dripping
from a perfect story-book gingerbread house.

She spoke of warming chilled hands on mismatched mugs of
mulled wine, redolent with heady scents of cinnamon and
anise, sensuously entwined with underlying fragrances of
pine, roast potatoes, ham glazed with ginger marmalade, and
fruit mince generously soaked in brandy from a dusty bottle.

She spoke of hand-sewn stockings hanging from
a mantelpiece supporting an assorted collection of
cards stuffed with well wishes, above a fireplace
that crackled and popped with an authenticity conveying
warmth and tradition.

She spoke of balls of crumpled wrapping paper,
torn edges in greens, gold and crimson, interspersed with
discarded lengths of clumsily curling ribbon,
that told their own tale of thoughtfulness, of preparation,
of satisfaction and excitement.

She spoke of home and a scene
so unfamiliar
and yet I knew I’d seen it before in
a hundred movies and on
a thousand greeting cards so unsuitable
for my own holiday season.

Book review of The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient (The Kiss Quotient, #1)

Stella has a gift for numbers and does a fantastic job as an econometrician, predicting sales based on collected data of consumers, but she’s constantly turning down promotions.  Why?  Because they want to give her direct reports, and Stella doesn’t deal well with people.  That goes double for her personal life.  She’s tried dating, but can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, and frankly, she finds kissing and sex distasteful.  Ugh, some guy putting his tongue in her mouth?  No, thank you.  She has a sensitivity to smells and touch and taste, and the men she’s dated don’t make any allowances for that.  But that’s probably her fault too because she won’t tell them why she’s struggling.  Because she doesn’t want their pity.  When people find out she’s autistic, they treat her differently, and she just wants to be normal.  Or does she?  Her mother has made her promise she’ll try on the personal relationship front, so Stella can’t give up even if she wants to.

After a ‘ex’ tells Stella she needs more practice in bed (!), Stella hires Michael, an escort, and asks him to teach her about sex so she can get better at it and therefore be more successful in the dating arena.  After a couple of false starts, a failed date and a spectacularly atrocious family dinner, Michael puts two and two together.  Once he understands what Stella needs and why, it’s much easier to work with her on the skills she wants to improve.  But the more he learns about her, the more he realises it’s going to be hard to walk away from her.

There was only one thing I didn’t like about this story.  Stella doesn’t tell Michael she’s autistic because she’s worried that it will change how he views her.  He figures it out, it doesn’t change how he feels about her (if anything, he feels more strongly for her), and yet because they don’t communicate on the subject for ages, it remains an issue preventing them from being together.  Similarly, Michael doesn’t tell Stella what forced him into the escort business because he’s worried it will change how she views her.  She figures it out, it doesn’t change how she feels about him (if anything, she feels more strongly for him) and yet because they don’t communicate on the subject for ages, it remains an issue preventing them from being together.  Ugh.  I hated that.  But it was still a solid four star read, and I really enjoyed it, so don’t let that stop you.

I thought Stella was really well written, and she felt natural.  Sometimes with characters who have ‘labels’ such as autism, it feels like the author gives them characteristics, habits or issues just to make them more stereotypical of whatever they’ve been labelled with.  Stella didn’t feel like that.  She felt more natural.  And she wasn’t ‘cured’ by Michael.  That was made evident in a few ways, including when Philip kissed her and when she was wearing the top with the open seams when talking to Janie.  Interestingly, after I finished reading the book, I found out the author is also on the autism spectrum, and wrote a lot of herself into Stella.

If you enjoy contemporary romance novels, I think you’ll enjoy this one.  It’s not gritty per se, nor is it clean and sweet, but it feels real.

Book review of The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L Armentrout

The Problem with Forever

This book seriously tugs at your heart strings.  Have tissues handy.  Mallory and Rider share a very hard, troubled childhood, but it’s not the few flashbacks that get to you, it’s the mental and emotional scars they still bear, and how those affect them today.  It took me some time (as it took Mallory some time) to understand how deeply those scars affected Rider.  There is a lot of focus on Mallory, and the reader has a very clear understanding of her situation, whereas we only really see a surface view of Rider and on the surface he seems fine.  But he’s not.  And eventually Mallory realises that.  The use of the childhood book to illustrate the characters’ struggles was brilliant.  It helped me (who doesn’t have that history or those scars) to understand the way these troubled teens viewed the world and their place in it.  Some parts were predictable (the roles that Paige and Ainsley played, in particular) but there were enough curveballs (Jayden!) to keep you wanting to turn the page and find out what happened next.

The way that Mallory spoke did grate on me a little, and put me in mind of Bella from Twilight and all her teen angst, but it was pretty integral to the character and I can’t see how the author could have written it any differently, so I shouldn’t complain.

I thought Mallory’s speech was fantastic, and really pulled all the loose threads together, but then Rider went one better and gave us an incredible satisfying ending.  The epilogue was also satisfying – no perfect lives, but moving together towards a brighter future.

This book should come with trigger warnings, but otherwise is a must read if you like powerful YA romances.

Armageddon New Zealand 2018

I had a good weekend, all things considered.  My husband was meeting up with a bunch of his imaginary friends streamer mates on Saturday night.  One friend came to stay at our house on Friday night and we made vodka lemon lime and bitters (it’s a Kiwi/Aussie thing, Google it) and got to know each other.  Then Saturday they went to Armageddon and I worked on my family recipe book.  Saturday night we went out to meet up with the rest of their imaginary friends streamer mates. It was a bit daunting, because I didn’t know anyone, but everyone was really nice.  I played an atrocious game of pool with my husband, ate some cake that was waaaay too sweet, and met some new people who might become new friends.  We’re going to try and catch up with some for drinks and stuff one weekend.

My daughter was very kindly given two double passes to Armageddon (thanks Aero!), so on Sunday I took her and two of her friends to get their geek on.

Some of the costumes were insane! I did myself proud and asked a bunch of people to let me photograph them. It’s easier than regular street photography, because they’ve put so much effort into their outfits they’re happy to pose for photos, but I still felt proud of myself for going up to strangers and saying ‘Can I take your photo?’

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There was an author selling signed copies of his books and it was a fantasy series, so I bought the first one for my son and had it signed for him. Another Christmas present sorted. *Bigsmile*

My daughter and her friends really wanted to see the cast from RWBY, an anime series she loves. I say ‘cast’, but it’s animated, so really they’re the voice actors. She knew them all by name though. The line was insane, all the way down the corridor. We joined the queue, but it was moving ridiculously slowly. Instead of quickly signing things for each person, they were having full on conversations with each person. I think we moved up the queue at the rate of about one person per five minutes. Seriously. It was beyond ridiculous. About an hour later we were about 20 people from the front of the queue when a staff member came around and said ‘In ten minutes they’re going to take a break and come back at 3:30pm.’ Wait, that’s an hour an a half away! We’ve been waiting in line for ages and we’re so close! The line moved a little bit quicker then, just enough to give us some hope, then with about 10 people in front of us, when we were close enough to see them, the actors went for their break. Gutted. They were replaced by another group, but only one of the second group was from RWYBY and it wasn’t one that my daughter was especially interested in. Some people left and the others just went up and got autographs from the second group. We told the staff that we were waiting for the other RWBY cast to come back, but didn’t want to start all the way back at the end of the line when they came back, so after much humming and haa-ing, they found a spot for us to wait off to the side. For an HOUR and a HALF. Ugh. My back was killing me. There was a lull in the line and my daughter snuck in and got an autograph from the one RWBY guy in that group. We’d been told that autographs and photos cost money, but thankfully they were giving away small 4×6 prints with free autographs. Then, finally, the other lot came back, and we were first in line for them. All three girls got autographs, and I got some for one of their friends who hadn’t been able to come with us, so the girls were all pretty happy. But tired. So we headed home then.

When I got home, and finally sat down and rested, I remembered about the Pokemon event I was supposed to be doing. Ugh. I ended up driving just up the road to a pokestop and putting a lure on. A lure normally lasts 30 minutes but for the event it lasted 3 hours, so that was sweet. Then I put incense on and just caught shitloads of pokemon. lol

Then tonight, we went to the neighbours for a BBQ. We ended up playing a game called ‘Five Second Rule’ where you have to name 3 things in five seconds. It was hilarious. I think the most ridiculous one was when I had to ‘name three words that end in at’ and all I could name was ‘proletariat’. *Laugh* The neighbour was like ‘What about cat, that, hat?’ No, I had to name proletariat. *Rolling* It was so ridiculous, it had us all in hysterics. There were other funny ones too. ‘Name three reasons you’d call in sick.’ One of their boys said ‘You chopped your arm off, you killed someone’ and something else. And there were hilariously rude ones too. And a whole conversation about wanking that was quite illuminating. *Laugh* The conversation always ends up in the gutter when we’re with those neighbours. It’s always hilarious. So much fun. A good night.

Book review of Rebuilding Hope by Jessie G.

Rebuilding Hope (Kindred, #1)

This was an interesting take on a shifter romance.  I’m accustomed to such things as fated mates and alphas, but both those things were taken a step further in this book.

Crowley is not the alpha, he’s the Zenith.  That means two things – he rules over not just a group of shifters, but all shifters.  Of all breeds.  There are three Zeniths in the world, ruling over different areas.  Crowley rules over the Americas.  Below him there are the regular alphas who run the groups on a day-to-day basis.  Alphas are the strongest, as per usual.  Zeniths are born to the position, not in terms of bloodlines but in terms of abilities.  Secondly, Crowley can hear the thoughts and feel the emotions of all the shifters under his rule, and vice versa.  That’s what makes him the Zenith.  How that works in reality (can you say reality when it’s a fiction novel?!) wasn’t explained in great detail, but the reader was given sufficient information to get the gist of it and understand how it affects Crowley and how he uses it to affect the shifters under his care.

Then you’ve got mates.  Most shifters in this universe choose a mate, as humans do.  They may fall in love, but they’re not fated.  It turns out that Holden is Crowley’s fated mate, which for a Zenith is known as a Kindred.  No one has encountered a Kindred in so long that they were believed to be myths.

All of the above gave the novel a sense of uniqueness, and made it interesting and different to those that have come before it, which is good.

I found the story hard to follow at first, and I was super confused as to why Crowley asked Holden to join him at his table in the restaurant, although that was sort of explained later.  Their first encounter wasn’t shared with the reader.  From Crowley offering Holden a seat, we skip forward to them in bed together, and that baffled me.  Why didn’t we get to see their very first interaction with each other?

Once the story got going through, everything flowed quite smoothly after that.  I liked the fact that Crowley wasn’t arrogant, that he worried over whether he was doing a good job as Zenith, that he genuinely cared for his people, that he respected advice from those whom he trusted and respected, and yet that he was ruthless and hands-on when it came to necessary punishments.  In short, a good leader.  Holden’s bewilderment and bafflement over the whole shifter thing and also his role as Kindred worked well and felt natural, and yet he instinctively reacted to some things, reinforcing the idea that the relationship was ‘meant to be’.  I thought that was all handled really well.

Some of the secondary characters were quite interesting. The vampire king definitely caught my attention.  I suspect there are sequels to follow on the other two Zeniths as they hunt for their Kindreds. Four stars from me.

Book review of A Chosen Man by Jaime Reese

A Chosen Man by Jaime Reese

This is the 6th book in Jaime Reese’s Men of Halfway House series.

Wall is a secondary character we’ve encountered previously, who talks very little.  Like, ridiculously little.  So I was curious to see how Jaime would portray his story.

I loved Dylan.  He reminded me of Cole, a previous character.  Dylan has a powerful memory and can remember virtually everything he reads.  The author didn’t explicitly state that it was a photographic memory, but it obviously was.  He’s also a tech genius, specifically a hacker.  But then comes the similarity to Cole – the habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time because he doesn’t fully understand the nuances of normal, everyday social situations.

Both Dylan and Wall have had previous relationships that scarred and/or traumatised them, and led them to being wary of new relationships.  Built into this is the explanation of why Wall is so quiet, and how Dylan ended up in jail.

It wasn’t the guy, or his smile, or the sound of his voice. It was the promise of the dream. And, at the time, he probably would have accepted that from a three-legged iguana shifter if it had been able to speak that promise to him.

Like with Cole, the author doesn’t try and pretend he’s squeaky clean, an innocent man who did time for an honest mistake.  Dylan broke the law, but the author cleverly entices the reader to fall for him anyway.  I mean, for Wall to fall for him anyway.  Ahem.

I felt that the relationship between Wall and Dylan healed both men to a point where I felt like some of their stronger personality traits weren’t so obvious anymore.  Wall talked a lot more than I expected, and Dylan learned how to concentrate on his surroundings and what reactions were best in a given situation.  I was a little disappointed that they became more ‘normal’.  I didn’t feel like that happened with Cole, or even Adrian, who were strong characters that remained strong characters but found someone who loved them anyway.  Wall and Dylan changed each other.  For the better, sure, but…  Anyway, I dropped a star off my rating for that.

I added a star to my rating for the humour.

He imagined he would be crapping sugar cubes at any moment.

I kept laughing aloud as I read, and I love a book that can do that for me.

Wall didn’t know shit about computers, programming, and wouldn’t be able to find the dark web in a well-lit room.

The relationship between Wall and Dylan didn’t have enough tension or conflict to really keep my interest.  Their relationship was very sweet.  There was external conflict, which came from the men chasing Dylan.  The ‘escaping the bad guys’ sections of the book were easily my favourite, although Wall’s mum was very cool and I liked her a lot.  If there had been more conflict, I think the book would have been stronger.  As it was, I felt it was a three star read, taken to four stars with the humour.  If you want a sweet read that will make you smile, check it out.