Book Review: Last Summer by Kylie Ladd

Rating: ★★★★☆

Every so often, we experience a moment that changes everything, a point at which we’re forced to re-evaluate and take stock of what’s important. Often such a life-altering moment stems from a realisation of our own mortality and once we emerge from mourning we see life with amazing clarity, like spring after a dark, sombre winter.

Eight friends and one wife are forced into the cold darkness of grief when Rory dies. This quintessential Aussie bloke has been at the centre of their lives for years, whether they care to admit it or not, and the shock of his sudden death plunges them into new directions that they never saw coming.

His best friends face a new dynamic in their friendship group, their wives have to deal with changes in their relationships and the children try to cope with a situation of which they have little understanding. Rory’s sister is lost without him, and his wife is utterly grief-stricken.

How will they all cope? And where to from here?

Last Summer is a stunning exploration of loss, life, families and friendships.

The local cricket club (an omnipresent theme in itself) sets the scene, providing a background of competitiveness, celebration, disappointment and indifference an intriguing combination of feelings to draw on.

We delve straight into the lives of nine people, all completely different but refreshingly devoid of cliche. Readers are guided through the day-to-day lives of these families, from the non-descript to huge, life changing events.

Last Summer begins with a punch, and within the first few pages I had laughed, cried and held my breath as I read on. The pace never falters and I found the writing and storyline literally breathtaking. Little twists and turns kept me quickly turning pages and greedily wanting more. My only complaint was that I was exhausted every day, as the book kept me awake far too late each evening!

This is Kylie Ladd’s second novel. Her first, After the Fall, met with much critical acclaim and showcased this author’s talent for observation of human nature. Her latest offering takes this further – it is written so beautifully and honestly, and she makes every single word work hard. I love the way she makes the small parts of life noteworthy and interesting, or rather, notices the small, noteworthy and interesting parts of life.

Last Summer is a must-read.

Book Review: 100 Stories for Queensland

Rating: ★★★★☆

The brief was clear: short stories wanted for a charity anthology to support the Queensland flood victims. All stories must be of an uplifting or upbeat nature.

It’s incredible seeing the online writing community join together to achieve something wonderful, like 100 Stories for Queensland. Hundreds of talented writers submitted stories, and 100 of those were selected to be part of this anthology – and it’s an honour for me to be amongst the latter number.

Upon having an advance peek of the book, I was moved to tears by the introduction written so beautifully by Kate Eltham, CEO of the Queensland Writers’ Centre. Eltham speaks of the day she and so many others watched the Brisbane River struggle against the onslaught of rain, and she tells us what it was like for a Queenslander to be part of the ensuing days and weeks.

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Book Review: When My Husband Does the Dishes by Kerri Sackville

Rating: ★★★★☆

When my husband saw this book, he wanted to know why I was reading about him having to do the dishes. (By pure coincidence, he was actually doing the dishes at the time.) Knowing full well what happens when Ms Sackville’s husband does the dishes, I just grinned at him. And then started thinking up excuses for later that night…

Kerri Sackville is well known in the online world for her humorous and witty observations. Through her blog, social media and articles on various websites, she has gained a following of people knowing they can ‘drop in’ on her and have an intelligent conversation, usually with a bit of a laugh too.

Now, with her first book, Sackville brings her voice to the masses – and they’ll soon find out why we all love her.

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Review: Planning With Kids by Nicole Avery

I first met blogger Nicole Avery at a local blogging meet-up last year. I knew who she was as soon as she walked in the room – the charisma and presence that comes across on her blog was unmistakable in real life.

The second thing I liked about her was that she had thought to make and bring BLTs for everyone, whipping them out just as we all began thinking how hungry we were. (Lifesaver!)

Recently, Nicole was approached by Wright Books to turn the idea of her blog into a book. Lucky woman, you might say. Yes, that’s true – but it’s also a result of sheer hard work.

And, of course, planning.

Planning With Kids, the blog, was created as a way for Nicole to share tips for making life simpler. The overall theory of the website is to use various ways of organisation – meal planning, rosters for the children to lend a hand around the house, timetables, budgeting and more – to leave more time for parenting and the fun things.

Let’s face it – there are day-to-day tasks around the house and in parenting that none of us enjoy terribly much. And so, I tend to agree – and have found from my own experience – that streamlining the mundane things makes life easier. Better.

The book has the same theories behind it, and provides practical tips that have worked for Nicole, her husband and their brood of five children. Age-appropriate tips for children up to twelve (the age of their oldest child) to help around the house, a how-to meal planning guide, and step by step instructions for budgeting and saving are all part of the sections on running the house.

And then there is parenting. While not strictly a ‘parenting book’, focusing instead on the planning and organisation of family life, there are major parenting considerations when doing this. For example, setting and changing routines, preparing for a new baby, toddler tactics, introducing children to the internet and school readiness.

Finally – but definitely just as importantly – comes a section for You. Making time for yourself and your interests is an important part of being happy in your life, Nicole suggests, and offers tips for making this happen. (We all know how simple it is to ‘forget’ to schedule time for yourself amongst everything else that a parent must do!)

Along the way, there are tips from other parents – some with one child, others with eight, but all useful, practical suggestions that have worked for different families, sometimes offering a backup to Nicole’s words and at other times an alternative approach.

There is more – much more – in this book, and I recommend you check it out. It is not written in a preaching tone and Nicole never pretends to have a perfectly scheduled family or the eternally neat display home, but she does share her experiences in making life as a parent, and as part of a family, better.

But the thing I love about this book the most? Nicole’s natural, friendly personality shines through.

Title: Planning With Kids
Author: Nicole Avery
Category: Non-fiction
Publisher: Wrightbooks
ISBN: 9780730375647
RRP: $29.95
Publication Date: April 2011

Book Review: Bump and Grind by Genevieve Morton

If you’ve ever tried to conceive, you’ve probably been told to ‘just relax’ hundreds of times. And you’ll also know how unhelpful such ‘advice’ is, and how frustrating it is to hear people be flippant over something so important to you.

Former reporter and columnist, now mum and freelance writer, Genevieve Morton struggled with just that – and many other things – during her time trying to conceive. So she wrote a book about it.

This honest, funny, informative and light-hearted book about this tough time in a woman’s life hits the nail on the head. Compiled as an A to Z reference, Morton acknowledges all the aspects of trying to conceive. And all the aspects of trying to conceive actually equal all the aspects of your life.

From sex to lifestyle, work to online support, relationships to alternative therapies – everything is covered here.

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Book Review: The Little Pink Book by Dr Phillip Yuile

More than 13,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia every year – and this figure is increasing over time. It’s more important than ever before for women to be informed.

Knowledge, in this instance, is not just power; knowledge is survival. You may think you know about breast cancer. After all, we hear about it in the media, we know it’s something to be aware of and we know how to check for lumps… don’t we?

Firstly, it’s so important to speak with your GP about all of this. How to check, when to check, what to check for and, if you have a family history of cancer, what special precautions should be taken. In the instance of the worst case scenario – a diagnosis of breast cancer – it’s more important than ever to be informed and know what is happening and what will happen as time goes on.

That’s where The Little Pink Book comes in.

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Aussie Bloggers Conference: meeting, tweeting and celebrating

On Saturday, 19th March 2011, 170 women and men came together in Sydney to talk, tweet, listen and learn about all things blogging. The inaugural Aussie Bloggers Conference was a meet-up, a conference and a party all in one.

The room was abuzz with energy as uncertainty, nerves and absolute excitement gained momentum and organiser Brenda Gaddi seemed to take it all in before releasing it in a huge cheer. After such a long time planning, the day had arrived.

It was as huge as that. Blogging, by nature, can be a solitary and silent activity, so every attendee was keen to meet like-minded others and talk about this online wave taking Australia into its grasp. These people proved, though, that bloggers feeling isolated can be far from the reality, saying that the best thing about blogging is the friends they’ve made, the business opportunities they have found and the support network built around them.

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Cookbook Review: Manu’s French Kitchen by Manu Feildel

Rating: ★★★★☆

Manu's French KitchenFrench food, home style. The message that chef Manu Feildel wants us to take from his latest cook book is that making beautiful French cuisine doesn’t have to be a near impossible feat. And the good news is, he’s right.

Yes, he’s the expert, and he should be right. But sometimes a cook book promises so much and just doesn’t deliver. We’ve all been there: trying a dish for the first time, certain it will be delicious and perfect, and it fails. At best, it becomes a night for eggs on toast; at worst, you’re left ordering pizza at your dinner party while the guests laugh at your efforts.

You can imagine my delight, then, when I took a risk on Manu and made some dishes from Manu’s French Kitchen for the first time when I was expecting a dozen guests. They turned out perfectly: flavours to die for, and presentation just as they looked in the book. Even the pastry was perfect, and I’m known for ruining pastry. Phew.

I made a few other dishes that day, but by far the greatest comments (and requests for second servings) were for Manu’s recipes.

This book is filled with the food Manu grew up with, the dishes his mother cooked in his childhood. They’re basic but never boring, simple yet flavoursome, classic without being daggy.

I love its stunning photography, its modern take on home-style dishes, the menu suggestions for the perfect dinner party, and the surprises in store when you next bake. This is Quiche Lorraine like you’ve never tasted before, sauces and side dishes to crave, melt-in-your-mouth pastries, desserts that you thought could only be found in a lovely little café, home-cooked food that will warm and comfort you to your core.

This book is personal for Manu, featuring photographs and mentions of his family who so obviously inspire his work. In the introduction he says, “Every recipe is included because it’s for a dish that makes me happy when I cook and eat it, and because it just tastes great.” Agreed.

Filled with fresh flavours, beautiful produce (that’s easily found), and impressive meals to serve to your friends, this book is a new firm favourite.

Book Review: Mia Culpa by Mia Freedman

Rating: ★★★★☆

My introduction to magazines began when Mia Freedman was the Editor of Cosmopolitan. I picked up an issue, read her introduction and was hooked for the rest of my teen years.

These days, Freedman heads an enormously successful website that doubles as a community discussing topics big and small, writes a weekly column for a newspaper publication… and writes books.

Her previous book, Mama Mia: a memoir of mistakes, magazines and motherhood, gave us an insight into the highs and lows of Freedman’s life. And it made women fall in love with her all over again. This is a woman many of us can relate to; someone who knows what we’re thinking about and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. She’s someone you feel you could talk to over a cuppa, who you’d love to work with and chat to by the watercooler each day.

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Book Review: Parenting by Heart by Pinky McKay

Rating: ★★★★☆

Known for her gentle parenting techniques and work towards helping parents trust their instincts, Pinky McKay’s latest book gives us more of the same with a focus on the all-important first year.

If you’ve had a baby, you may be able to relate to the way a lot of women describe the first year of their baby’s life: “a blur”. But it doesn’t have to be that way (at least, not all the time).

McKay takes us through all the things that worry parents of a new baby: the birth, sleeping, feeding, bonding, playing, crying, relationships, body image, depression and looking after yourself. And she does it all with the reminder to “Trust yourself. Trust your child. Trust your feelings.” – a beautiful message that we all need to be reminded of.

Parenting books have taken a bit of a beating at times, criticised for preaching or being impractical – and sometimes such criticism is absolutely warranted. But McKay’s books are worth taking a look at.

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