Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Winter Rose - review

This was a book I have been meaning to read for a long time and when I spotted it in a second hand shop for $6, I grabbed it.

It’s an awfully long book, so I’m grateful for the time I spend on the train travelling to and from work which allowed me to read it in about four weeks.

The guts of the story were good, but I think it could have been so much better.

I could have been written a lot better – mainly the thought process, which bugged me to no end because author Jennifer Donnelly used endless questions to express what her characters were thinking, which just seemed a little lazy to me.

The characters annoyed me too. They weren’t very likeable. I could tell Donnelly intended India Selwyn Jones to be this fearless woman who would never let anyone tell her she couldn’t do something just because she was a woman in the 1900s. That would have been great if she had pulled it off, but there were far too many points when she turned into this trembling little kitten who let others control her life, especially men, that it wasn’t believeable.

Being a woman doctor in the 1900s, I would have thought India would never tolerate men ruling her life. But she did. Despite walking away from her parents to become a doctor, she let her father dictate her life with money. Despite hating Freddie Lytton with a passion, she let him blackmail her, take her money, and control her. And despite her falling in love with Sid Malone, she left everything she loved behind to start a life with him. In the end, it had me confused as to what sort of person Donnelly was actually trying to portray in India.

Sid Malone. He was just not believeable. He was made out to be this heartless criminal who ruled the East End underground with every cop and MP in town after him. And, of course, India comes into his life and instantly he wants to change, be a better man, after a lifetime of crime. Sure, he has a sad back story of murdered parents causing him to go off the rails, but I just wasn’t sold.

What would have made it more believeable? Instead of overrunning the story with endless political nonsense, it would have been great if I could have got to know Sid Malone a lot better and seen the love story play out longer and a lot more frustratingly.
A do-gooder woman doctor and London’s most wanted criminal don’t just fall in love in one night walking through the sewers together. I wanted it to be harder, more heart-wrenching, more devastating, almost impossible for them to find love in each other and even more impossible for them to be together. It was far too easy, far too fast. And I just didn’t believe it.

Maybe I’m being too cynical, reading too much into the story, but I wanted more, and it’s a shame because it had the potential to be so much more.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Welcome to WellyLove

She arrives at the station in Waterloo, ready for a brand new day, book in hand, and a smile on her face amongst a crowd of sour ones dreading the daily commute. She used to be one of them too. She hated squeezing onto the crowded train, sitting next to a stranger or, on a busy day, standing in the aisle trying to keep her balance. But now she looks on the bright side – commuting to work on the train means more reading time. That pile of books that grows with every birthday, Christmas and impulse spending actually gets read.

She alights from the train, her feet already slightly sore from her brand new heels she bought for her brand new job, but smiling at the clicking noise they make on the concrete.

Through the subway she goes with the slow-moving crowd and as she emerges onto the street, and the cool autumn air hits her square in the face in that unique way Wellington has of saying hello. But she loves autumn, it’s her favourite season, so she doesn’t mind. After a year of breathing clean country air, the fresh sea air with hints of fumes and cigarettes is, strangely enough, a breath of fresh air because you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.

The trip uptown past the beehive and onto Lambton Quay is one filled with temptation - although most shops are yet to open for the day, she stores window displays in her memory making a mental note to have a look at that dress or that hat after work.

The journey past the Old Bank Arcade is her favourite part, and she slows down to admire the big cream coloured building that just sits on the corner there, not really on a street, really sitting on about three streets and still looking much as it did 50 years ago. It seems to say “I’m not going anywhere, you streets can work around me thank you”.

Funnily enough, the Old Bank Arcade got it’s name because it used to be a bank. If you look closely, you will notice the little windows the bank tellers would serve you at are still there. Even the massive safe is still there. And the words “Bank of New Zealand”adorn the outside of the building.

Willis Street is the next leg of the journey, and part of her can hear the steady rumble and jingling bells of the trams that used to travel up and down this road now plagued with never ending road works and impatient buses.

Work is on Boulcott Street in a modern building that faces the hills. An old three storey house perched high on the hill with red-trimmed window frames and bay windows peeks out from between apartment buildings and office buildings, just glass an concrete.

Lunch breaks take her down Manners Street where still more trams would run once upon a time, to the eclectic centre of town, Cuba Street, where buskers and fortune tellers and magicians and unicyle riders make people smile and laugh for a few coins dropped onto a blanket or into a guitar case. It is easy to walk up Cuba Street and simply see shop after shop and the further up you walk, the more eclectic it gets with vintage threads, vinyl records. But if you want to see what Cuba Street once looked like, all you have to do is look up. Some may look derelict and some may be closed down and bordered up due to earthquake risk, but if you look past those minor details and look at the dates enscribed on the front of each building, it’s history at your fingertips.

Weekends occassionally take her out to the glistening harbour, and although it can be a trial on a windy day with a southerly blowing in to swiftly burn your face with ice, you can’t beat it on a good day. On a good day, when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, she walks the length of the wharf breathing in he salt air watching people on bikes and scooters and roller blades and anything else with wheels zoom past her while kayaks and yachts drift lazily in the rarely calm water.

The girl in this story is me. This is the beginning of an infinite project called WellyLove.

As I am writing a novel based in Wellington over the years from 1915 to 2012, and, as I will not be travelling far in the next year due to the need to save my ass off, most of my time will be spent in this great city where I will be researching it’s colourful history in order to shape New Zealand’s next bestselling novel (I'm modest, I know). Not only will I be researching, but I will also be embracing my city like I did the Wairarapa because there is so much to love, to experience, to learn, and just because we’re Wellingtonians does not mean we can’t be tourists in our own city. So I’m going to share what I learn and experience with you, dear readers. It could be anything from the history of a building or a fascinating gravestone; a famous person long dead; a review of a restaurant or cafe; an event; a tour; an interesting quote or photograph; or simply musings on what it is like to live in the Coolest Little Capital in the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One Day review

Never thought I would say this about a book, but I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL I CAN SEE THE MOVIE!

I like to think that most books are meant to be books. They are meant to be appreciated in their original form because that's what the author intended. But some books are butchered by Hollywood as well all know.

However, this one is a little different because the author, David Nicholls, wrote the screenplay for the movie, so that's promising. Also the trailer looks AWESOME, just as I pictured it in my head, although it's hard to tell whether I pictured Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess while reading the book because I knew they were going to be starring in the movie or whether Nicholls had just described them that well.

Anywho, this is a book review, so best get back to the book - the movie vs. book review shall come later once I get to see it at the end of the month when it comes out on DVD.

I have to be honest and say that, in the beginning, maybe even for the first third of the book, it wasn't blowing my mind. I was even a bit bored. I'm guilty of being one of those people who read a book just because it has a "bestseller" sticker on it, so I was a little disappointed at first. But, I have no idea why, after that first third I couldn't put it down.

Nicholls could be compared to Nicholas Sparks in the way that he weaves a romantic story full of raw emotion and a heart-breaking ending. I admit, I am a Nicholas Sparks fan, but they're the kind of books (except maybe The Notebook which is a classic) that you read when you want a bit of a brain break, something light and something that reminds you of what it's like to be in love. But, although One Day turned into a romance as you would expect, it was a breath of fresh air to have a writer just about as romantic as Sparks but who explores the often neglected subject of friendship.

And the characters are real. They’re not drop-dead stunningly super model gorgeous, they’re just the kind of people you could see youself hanging out with over a few pints at your local. She’s pretty, but a bit dorky. He’s handsome, but not very fit and drinks and smokes too much. But they see beauty in each other, and that’s what it’s all about. I believe that no matter who you are, there will always be someone out there who finds you beautiful.

Male friends are the best, and if you have male friends, I promise you will have many "that's totally us" moments while reading this book.

It is a very poingant look at both sides of a relationship because after all, most people, if they're not stupid, marry their best friend.

Also what was interesting was following these two people in their 20s in the 90s. I was coming into teenage hood in the 90s, so it was different for me. While I was grooving to the Spice Girls in front of the mirror singing into my Impulse can, they were listening to garage bands and starting out life in the adult world without cell phones and Facebook, things people in their 20s today take for granted.

Bring on February 29th! Movie time!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

See ya later Wairarapa, it's been grand

On Saturday I said goodbye to a life in the Wairarapa I never expected to have but now cannot imagine my life without, and although I'm back to the suburban/city life I grew up in and belong in, living in the country is something I never expected to like but will never forget.
So I'm saying goodbye the best way I know how - by writing about it.

These are my Top 10 Wairarapa Moments:

1. The house that has no love
There's something about a big abandoned house that makes any creative dizzy with dreams, and the house on the hill just out of Carterton is enough to make any of them insane with an overload of ideas. It's like a blank canvas, where anything is possible; it's like that old saying, "one man's trash is another man's treasure" and seeing this beauty wasting away is simply heartbreaking.

2. Bright lights, “big city”
I've been pretty lucky to have had a great flatmate for the last year - a flatmate I've cooked with, gone to the movies with, shared my problems/stories with and whose problems/stories I have listened to - and one of my favourite memories is a very early one: a trip around the flash... and not-so-flash (ie. tacky) Christmas lights of Masterton, which ended with disappointing unmixed McFlurry's which did little to dampen the childlike excitement of the night.

3. That day it snowed
We all remember that beautiful, beautiful day when the whole country turned white for the first time in 50 years. I could think of no better - if a little dangerous - job to be doing at the time than journalism. With gumboots on and as many layers of thick clothing I could handle, my day was spent chasing photographic gems: children making snowmen, rows of rural letterboxes covered in an icing of snow, long country roads indented with the swirling marks of slow-moving tyres, sheep foraging under the snow for food, and pukeko trudging through the white stuff with no idea what's going on.

4. Up in the air
I did think twice about adding this to the list, considering the devastating hot air balloon crash that killed 11 people on January 7th in Carterton. But, in March last year, hot air balloons were still magical and it was one of the most important items on my bucket list that I got to tick off for free, so although it is not something I would ever do again following the crash, I'm glad I did do it because I'm never going to forget how it felt to rise up into the air at the same time as the sun early in the morning with 22 other balloons surrounding me and spending two hours breathing in the fresh air and seeing the world like I had never seen it before.

5. The best New Year's Eve ever
You know you have an amazing group of friends when they leave the bright lights of the capital city to drive over the Rimutaka Hill and spend New Year's Eve with you in lil' ol' M-Tron. Up until the very last minute, I think the whole of New Zealand was hoping the weather gods would change their minds and give us a sunny New Year, but that didn't happen and I'm glad it didn't because if we had better weather, we would have found something to do in Wellington and never would have ended up getting drunk at my flat, attempting to "shuffle" and dancing to old Beatles records to bring in what is set to be the best year yet, 2012!

6. Family time
I don't ask for a lot. I don't ask for people to go out of their way for me. But they so often do and it warms my heart each and every time. When I moved to the Wairarapa, I didn't expect people to go out of their way to visit me because I had made the decision to move away, so I should visit them. But two of my favourite  recent family memories are my whole family coming to visit me - once for mum's birthday when we went out for dinner in Masterton, and once earlier this year when we had one of our favourite family dinners: fish and chips in the park. After packing ourselves full of beautiful deep-fried fish and good kiwi chip butties, we wasted no time and comandeered the flying fox, all of us taking at least two turns - some of us stupid ones going backwards or attempting to stand up - and then tackling the swing bridge, swings and jungle gym. Mature I know.

7. Celebrate good times
Thsi year isn't just a new beginning for me; it's also the start of a new career for my flatmate who started her first teaching job this year. To celebrate both our new jobs and to say goodbye, we went to Martinborough, home of the famous Martinborough Fair, beautiful wineries and gorgeous country restaurants - by far my favourite Wairarapa town. During such an unpredictable summer where it can be raining and freezing one day and too hot to function the next, we were incredibly lucky to have the perfect weather for the perfect night. The sky was blue and there was not a breath of wind or a drop of rain, and we enjoyed a beautiful meal at Cool Change, a new restaurant which is totally awesome and I think you should go there, followed by the most delicious gelato I've ever tasted (except for Kaffee Eis in Wellington) at It's Quite Cool.

8. An introduction to farm life
Of all the people the Wairarapa Times-Age could have chosen to be Rural Reporter, they chose the girl who grew up in the suburbs and had spent some years working in the city. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was doing, but I was willing to try. One of my favourite rural reporting memories was one of my first, when I went to a farm to talk to a farmer about a bridge over the Ruamahunga River that would stop cattle polluting the river. But to get there, I had to sit on the back of a quad bike in my dress and flimsy ballet flats, get trampled on and licked by dirty working dogs, and hang on for dear life while the farmer drove for miles across his land to get to the bridge. But despite the culture shock, I felt exhilirated at the end of it; ruined shoes, dirty dress and messed up hair notwithstanding.

9. Hello Mr Chicken
In my first few weeks as a Masterton resident, my partner and I went for a walk to the supermarket along a seemingly suburban road, and, to our surprise, were joined by a chicken. Sure, to people who had lived in Masterton for awhile that would have been nothing out of the ordinary, but to us it was hilarious. But, after living here for a year, I've discovered sharing the road with animals is a regular occurrence, from sheep, to cattle, to dogs on motorbikes. Which brings me to my next memory...

10. Man's best friend
Country roads are anything but long and boring. If the fresh air and feeling of complete and utter freedom is not enough, you should have been on Te Ore Ore Road on the one day I did not have my camera with me. So I'm driving along, and suddenly I look to my right and there on a farm motorbike is a man - most probably a farmer - slowly driving along the side of the road with a big brown dog, about as big as a retriever, sitting infront of him, tongue hanging loose, both man and dog sporting that classic country "what road rules" attitude.

To sum it up, I would not change a thing about the last 18 months. It hasn't all been smooth sailing, but everything that has happened has been a learning experience and I feel like I'm going back to Wellington a new person; a whole person with her eyes wide open to the world.