Monday, 31 March 2014

US versus UK cover: Fateful: by Claudia Gray

First a quick review . . . 

The book blurb calls this a: A tragic tale about falling in love on the world’s most infamous ill-fated sea voyage as heroine, Tess, discovers darker secrets that lie beneath the doomed crossing… and a hidden brotherhood that threaten to tear her lover from her forever.

This  was a fun read that didn't tax too many of my grey cells. Tess and Alec, the two MCs, are very nicely sketched and Mikhail is great bad guy. Sadly, both Tess and Alec fell prey to that young adult nasty, instalove, but despite that, their love was sweet and believable. When confronted by seemingly insurmountable danger, Alec was even willing to step away from her to do the right thing. I rather like that about him. My only other criticism was that I found the Lisle family for whom Tess works as a maid to be a little stereotypical, which was unfortunate. In fact, Lady Regina harked back quite a bit to Rose's mother in the James Cameron version of the Titanic movie.

The really interesting thing about the book, though, was the setting. It was constantly in my mind that regardless of what was happing in the plot, everything was going to come crashing down when the ship hit the iceberg. After the crash, I again had visions of the movie which somewhat dispelled the scenes and the tension Claudia Gray was trying to create. It's mighty hard competing against a mega-buster movie shot in techni-colour. 

I did enjoy the ending though - especially as this book is a stand-alone and I don't have to wait years to get to the end of a series. 

So, if like a lightweight paranormal, then you will enjoy this. I gave it three stars. 

Now to the covers . . . 

How different are these?

This is the US cover. Pretty, but not as eye-catching as the UK version, although I have read on Goodreads that the lettering is embossed, which would make a difference if you were seeing it in a bookstore, I suppose.

This is the UK version, which I own. I'll admit, I think it's a bit garish and perhaps also a bit misleading. That dress doesn't look even vaguely Edwardian. I do like the moon, though.

So what do you think? Which cover is better? Leave a comment because I'd love to hear from you.


Friday, 28 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: The British Obsession With The Weather: Careful, It's Catchy

I come from a country with a reputation for year round sunshine. In fact, I grew up to the strains of a radio commercial (we didn't have TV back in South Africa then) that went like this: "We love braaivleis (barbecued meat), rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet.

Then I moved to Cape Town and all that changed. But Cape Town is in South Africa, I hear you say.

Windmill: Taken by Andrew White

True. But Cape Town has the worst climate in Africa. No contest. It's so bad that us Capetonians often claim that our beloved Mother City doesn't actually have climate. It has weather. Often four different types in one day.

When you add a winter of howling gales, horizontal rain, and miserable cold that starts in May and petters out at the end of November into the mix, you begin to understand why Capetonians don't boast about the weather. Much. You see, even in winter we do get the occasional  - and I do mean occasional - perfect, windless, sunny day that makes us forgive the other 240 miserable ones. That's when we really start bragging.

Come summer, the gloating stops because now Cape Town is at its magnificent worst. December brings more wind: Chilling gales that come howling off the Southern Atlantic, keeping everything decidedly cold. They also make a trip to the beach an exercise in endurance, dodging sandstorms. But by the beginning of January all that changes with temperatures now soaring deep into the 90s and often topping the 100s. Then, just when we think we will expire, Autumn comes, bringing March and April, two perfect months. And the whole cycle starts again.

But in all the years I lived there, I never had a weather app on my phone. (Okay, one comes standard on the iPhone, but I never used it) I also never hung out with people to whom the vagaries of the weather are the primary topic of every conversation.

Cape Town: The Mother City

So imagine my surprise when I arrived in England to discover that every conversation - whether on the radio, in the supermarket, at a friend's house, at church, anywhere - is proceeded by a loooong discussion on the weather. And being England - another country with positively foul weather - you can imagine how depressing those discussion can be. And the English absolutely relish it. I swear, nothing gives the weatherman more pleasure than to announce that: "It will be a dull day, with ice to start, gales by lunchtime, rain by tea, and, oh yes, don't forget to cover the plants because air frost will follow."

Worse even than that, my weather app now has scuff marks from the number of times I look at it a day. It's like the bodysnatchers came past, taking Capetonian me with them, leaving this weather obsessed shadow behind.

Ah, dear me, brain rot. I've been here way to long.

Have a fun weekend.


PS: My husband Andrew jokes that it's highly possible that the mapmakers got the shape of England wrong . . . Who can tell? There are so few clear days on which to check.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

What pet would you own if you lived in a faction from Divergent by Veronica Roth?

Let me begin by apologising to my readers who are not obsessed with the Divergent trilogy (Goodreads) by Veronica Roth, and really couldn't care about pets or factions, but today you have come to the wrong place. My daughters and I are definitely committed Divergent fans. (I'll leave it to you to decide exactly where we should be committed to. . . )

Sadly, we still haven't had a chance to see the movie because - bad mother that I am - I left booking tickets too late. (Okay, maybe I'm not quite as obsessed as Erin and Kate)

Anyway, this post grew out of my daughter Erin's complaints about the way her black jeans (getting a picture here?) attract Labrador fur (my Lab is molting at the moment. Scratch at the moment - she's always molting) But I digress. Again. Holley's deposits on Erin's jeans got us thinking about what pets we'd own if we lived in a faction in Veronica Roth's world. So here goes . . .

Abnegation: We wouldn't own a pet because that would be seen as self-indulgent.

Erudite: All the pets would be down at the labs, being experimented. I suppose we could keep a rat . . . I'd name mine Caleb.

Dauntless: Dobermans and Rottweilers. Don't try and pet them because they'll rip your arm off.

Amity: Anything as long as it's cuddly.

Have a fun day!


Monday, 24 March 2014

It's Amazing What A Plan Can Do! Review: The Author Training Manual

Since arriving in England seven months ago, I have been floundering. In my defense, moving countries is not for sissies, but still, for months now I've been treading water. (I wrote an evocative post entitled Living in the Twilight Zone about this, which you can find here)

I'm now pleased to announce officially that all that has changed. No, I haven't left Thurlby, and yes, every day still brings things that overwhelm me, but I am a new person, armed with a plan to kickstart my life. And by that I don't just mean my writing and blogging. Every part of me that matters - my family, my reading, my weight, (gained too much thanks to comfort eating) and my church callings - have come under the spotlight and I'm finally ready to move forward. So what happened to bring this metamorphosis about?

Like most wonderful things, my plan came in the form of a book, this one with the improbable title of: The Author Training Manual: Develop Marketable Ideas, Craft Books That Sell, Become the Author Publishers Want, and Self-Publish Effectively. (GoodreadsPhew, that's quite a mouthful, but it pretty much sums up everything the book is about.

The author, Nina Amir, covers everything from building a winning attitude, to evaluating your book and its market so you can publish successfully. Truthfully, a lot of the motivational stuff was very familiar, but it certainly didn't harm to hear it again - especially since my life has been petty grim, focused more on survival than success. 

What I really liked about the book, though, is that it comes with worksheets. Now I'm not a great 'worksheeter', lacking the necessary patience to make them sing for me. This time I have been meticulous, and guess what? Surprise, surprise, I got TONS from the process. 

So, deadlined-up in every aspect of my life that matters, I can now safely declare that 2014 will not only see me lose about half my body weight, (Just kidding. Sort off) it will also deliver three books ready for publication. 

Yes, three books. Not half bad for the OCD book editor! (see post here) By November 2014, I will have three books completed and ready for publishing, namely:
  1. Pledged, the re-edit of my young adult fantasy, 
  2. Sacrificed, the sequel to Pledged
  3. Torn Trousers, a totally unrelated memoir about escaping life in the fast lane. This one is set on a desert island in the Okavango Delta in Botswana 
You will be hearing more about these books in the coming months. 

Excited and motivated here, I'm rearing to go. I honestly feel motivated for the first time in months. That has got to be good. 


Friday, 21 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: Are we defined by what we eat?

Definitely. Food, that all important stuff not only keeps us alive, but it defines us too.  Huh. You maybe, but not me, I hear you think. Well, imagine this: An Indian without curry. Or the English without roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. The mind barely goes there. Even us South Africans have our favourites. What would life be without koeksisters, boerewors, bunny chow and All Gold Tomato Sauce? In a word: MISERABLE. And I don't even like boereworsBut there, I've said it: life is miserable without them because food is part of what defines us, telling us how to see ourselves. It provides us with home from which we then build our homes. Deep stuff. 

But as an aside, in case you think I'm being literal, I don't see really myself as a stukkie wors, exactly. (Translated from Afrikaans, a stukkie wors is piece of boerewors sausage. See glossary below. For the uninitiated, boerewors is a South African institution a bit like sunshine, rugby and Nelson Mandela. It's total sacrilege to admit to not liking it. People have been stoned for less.)

But, I digress.

Before I came to England, I had no idea how important food and shopping for food was. In the past, I would sally down to my local supermarket, grab a trolley (shopping cart, for my American readers), and breeze down the aisles, chucking in familiar products as I went. An entire monthly grocery shop for a family of five would be done in twenty minutes. Half an hour tops. I admit, I'm a very predictable shopper with a list in my head that I hardly ever deviate from. My world would collapse if they ever dared rearrange the supermarket shelves . . .

And that was the main problem when I arrived in England.

Picture Aladdin stumbling into the robbers' cave.
See his expression.
Hear his whoop of delight.
Then freeze the frame.
Now tell him he has twenty minutes to fill his trolley with everything he thinks he needs for a month. Sure, he'll just grab at the brightest, sparkliest bling. Who wouldn't? 
Fast forward to him getting home, parking his magic carpet in the garage, and unpacking his haul. Watch his delight turn to consternation.
Hear him gasp, "How in heaven's name am I supposed to live - feed a family - on this lot? Where's the pre-chopped butternut squash we eat once a week? Or those really useful packs of pre-made chicken ala king sauce that are always so handy when I'm in a rush?" 
Feel the slap from the cold hand of reality. 
Gone. All of them. 

Nothing in Tescos, or Sainsbury's or any of the UK stores look ANYTHING like what I used to buy back in South Africa. Even the Cadbury's chocolate tastes different. So now a twenty minute shop has become an epic - almost like trying to find the Holy Grail. 

In the beginning, I actually cleared my diary for shopping day. And then there's the humiliation . . . yes, the humiliation of standing for ten minutes staring at the peanut butter, wondering which tasted anywhere near as good as Yum Yum. The other shoppers would look at me like I was some kind of peanut butter pervert. I shudder to imagine what they were thinking exactly . . . 

When I shared my shopping nightmare with my sister-in-law, Kaz, she told me of a South Africa woman she knew who actually broke down and cried at the tomato sauce aisle in a store in Perth, Australia. I feel for you, sister! By the way, like half the rest of South Africa, Kaz and my bother moved to Perth, Australia a few years ago. 

But months on, I have to admit, it's not all bad.

We didn't have Bakewell tarts back home, or easily accessible Doctor Pepper, or really cheap Terry's Chocolate Orange. 
Bakewell Tarts. A very good reason for moving to England

I guess one must count one's blessings. Or, as as those people filled with annoyingly positive optimism would say:  Bloom where you're planted. 

My roots are still a little on the fragile side, but I'm getting there.

Enjoy the weekend. And for my South African readers - have a braai for me!

Glossary of Terms

koeksister: An amazingly delicious, super-sweet, deep-fried, plated doughnut dunked in syrup. Served chilled. To die for.

Boerewors: A greasy, highly spiced sausage, often barbecued - or as we say in South Africa, braaied - and usually served in a hot dog roll. The smell of braaiing boerie hangs heavy in the air over the suburbs of South Africa, especially over weekends.

Bunny chow: Another food designed to slam your arteries shut. Usually bought as takeout, bunny chow consists of a hollowed-out half loaf of bread - usually white - filled with vegetable or meat curry. Nothing beats coming back from a really long camping trip in the bush, stopping at the first take-away, (usually reeking of rancid cooking oil) buying a bunny chow and plunking down on the pavement to eat it with your fingers. Now that's civilization.

All Gold Tomato Sauce: The best brand of tomato sauce - ketchup - in the universe. No exaggeration.

Yum Yum: See comment above about All Gold Tomato sauce, only here it applies to peanut butter.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Hello, My Name Is Gwynn And I'm OCD

"Hey, wait! Me, OCD? What idiot wrote that title? That Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-thingy that has people washing their hands fifty times a minute is not me. You've got the wrong person."

"Really? Are you sure about that?"

"Of course! I mean, I would know, wouldn't I?"

"Maybe not."

"Listen, there's absolutely nothing obsessive about me except perhaps for . . . "

"Ah! Light bulb moment. Care to elaborate?"

"Not really."

"Growing old here."

"Okay, okay. I admit, one of my slightly more annoying habits could build a case for OCD."

"Build a case! Are you kidding? We could write textbooks."

All right, I get the message. I admit that I'm one of the most OCD people in the world with an affliction that goes under the all-encompassing label of 'excessive editing'.

Anyone one else suffer from that? Non writers out there will shake their heads, wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Writers, on the other hand, will nod their heads sagely, and some might even add, "Ah, poor girl. Spare a thought for her and her writing projects because they both died in the frantic search to eliminate that final adverb and to add that final coma."

Arghhhhhhhh. I could shriek until my throat bleeds.

At the moment I have five books sitting on my computer in various stages of 'editing' (my editing, not even my editor's editing, sob), but do you think I can contain the urge to tweak, and to retweak, and to retweak yet again to get the damn things finished? No. It's totally and utterly and irrevocably beyond my OCD capabilities.

So, time to call in help.

And for this I have to thank one of my favourite authors and bloggers, Lindsay Buroker. Lindsay is nothing if not proficient having written and published ten novels and a bunch of novellas in three years, so she seems like the person I should be listening to. In a blog post this week she recommended a book for suffers like me.

Convinced, as I always am by her prose, I rushed all out of breath across to Amazon and downloaded it onto my Kindle. I will be exploring its pages this week, and hopefully, prayerfully, pleadingly, I will soon be pumping out 10k of good words in day. Personally, I think that's a bit optimistic for someone as OCD as me, but then that might just be the black monster of negativity talking. Down boy!

The black monster of negativity? Ah yes, him. But that's a subject of another post. In the meantime, wish me luck as my OCD and I face each other for a showdown. High Noon all over again.


Friday, 14 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: The Difference between South Africans and the English.

I know, I know, political correctness says we should embrace similarities, not differences, but sometimes the differences are so glaring that to ignore them would be like pretending the freight train barreling down the track towards you isn't really moving. That's just daft and I try not to do daft. Too often at least. But still, here I go into the shunting yard of national quirks and idiosyncrasies of both South Africans and the English. (Please go easy on me in the comments section.)

In my last Frivolous Friday post I mentioned English accents and how unspeakably difficult it sometimes is to figure out what people are saying. Well, it seems the knife cuts both ways. South Africans have accents too, apparently.

Of course I knew that before I came to England. I mean, I can recognise a guttural Afrikaans accent thick with rolled r's and g's anywhere. Not to mention a quirky Cape Coloured accent filled with 'jay's' and 'nay's. Or a black accent peppered with 'wekers' and 'eishes'. But I never thought I had a South African accent. No siree, I was exempt, because back home most people asked if I came from England. Now everywhere I go people ask if I'm from South Africa. How weird is that?

But one thing that having an accent does do is open doors to interesting conversations. Like the differences between the English and the South Africans.

Did you know that the English think us South Africans brash? A bit like Americans and Australians apparently. In fact, just by writing this post, I'm probably being 'brash'. But you must understand, the English would never actually use the word 'brash'. That is far too in your face. 'Brash' is what South Africans would say. My English friends gently accuse me of being 'direct'. That is not necessarily a compliment.

That is not the only difference between us. There is another that has taken me almost seven months to figure out. You see, where a South African would use one word to explain something, the English will use seven. That is being polite. Longwinded, but polite. Back in South Africa, we say why use seven when one will do? See? Brash.

Now I'm in England I have become ever conscious of how I am perceived. After all, I do want to become part of the nation. So suppressing the urge to speak bluntly and to express strong opinions has become a daily quest. I admit, I'm not very good at it yet, but watch this space . . . who knows, one day I might even be as English as the English: self-depreciating, with razor-sharp sarcasm delivered with a deadpan face. That would be a fine thing.

Enjoy your weekend.


Friday, 7 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: Life In The Twilight Zone

Almost seven months have passed since I arrived in the UK with my family. To say those months have been tumultuous would be an understatement. True to the experience of all immigrants (many of them my friends and family who transplanted themselves to other parts of the world), my parcel of challenges – some expected, others complete whammies – was waiting for me when I arrived at Newcastle upon Tyne airport.

Yes, we landed in north where the accents are so broad we wondered if the people were actually speaking English. Check out this beauty told to me in a parking lot: ‘gan canny or you’ll dunsh summick.’ Translation: Go carefully or you’ll crash into something. As a generic observation, seven months in and I still struggle with some of the accents. Yes, I’m talking to you, the Brummie I met at the tyre fitment centre in Redditch . . .

Anyway, back to the beginning of my story.

For the first month here, my brother’s cottage in Frosterly in Durham County was our home – hence our arrival at Newcastle. Part of the reason we landed there was that, quite frankly, we didn’t know where else to go. Unlike many immigrants, Andrew and I brought an existing business – an internet-based one that knows no boundaries - to England, so we were not headed for a specific job in a specific town. This was the first challenge. Erin tells with some delight of walking into the lounge to see us throwing darts at the map of England. She’s exaggerating. We were poking it with teaspoons. The biggest splash of hot chocolate landed on Lincolnshire, so that's where we settled.

Did you know that the south-eastern parts of Lincolnshire, known as the Fens, are amongst the flattest places in England, maybe even the world? No? Well, we didn’t either. That was quite a shock after the mountains of Somerset West. But the worse was yet to come.

In our desire for village life, we rented a house in a hamlet (spot the mistake) named Thurlby. Now, let me describe Thurlby to you. If my grandfather were still alive, he would have said that it's the kind of town where they roll up the pavements and roads after six in the evening. He was of Cockney descent, so I’ll admit his humour was a bit dry, but that perfectly sums up life in Thurlby.

So it came as no surprise when Erin and Kate started muttering things like ‘old age home’, ‘morgue’ and ‘our parents have gone mad’ within days of arriving. A month in and we had a full-scale rebellion on our hands. My daughters, who have moved about ten times in nineteen years, were demanding that we pack up and leave. Instantly. London became the mantra, but when the cost of rentals in the Greatest City On Earth blasted that idea out the sky, they took up a new cry: 'please, anywhere but Thurlby'. But tied to a lease and their schooling, moving isn’t that simple. So here we linger, in the twilight zone that is Thurlby.

Still, hope beacons . . . Come June, when the schools close for summer, we’ll be doing the great migration again, this time to Worcestershire - the county that inspired the Shire in Tolkien’s Hobbit. How can that be bad?

Until then, I take pleasure in simple things . . . the lengthening of the days, spring blossoming around me . . . new bird calls . . . crocuses, seen for the first time, daffodils growing wild . . . the anticipation of bluebell . . . like I say, simple things.
The daffodils in St James Park, London

Crocus and snowdrops seen on the walk to the post office. Yes, Thurlby does at least have a post office and a tiny convenience store. We count our blessings . . .

Isn't that colour amazing? Crocus seen at an open garden near Thurlby

Daffies in Green Park, London

Now for those wondering . . . yes, my blog went off the air for a while, but now I’m back, hoping to charm you with short observations on life in England, the occasional book review, and the odd commentary on writing and publishing the perfect novel. I hope you will join me in my journey.

Until later

PS. Kate still thinks Andrew and I are as daft as a pair of brushes for not moving to London.  

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