Running towards, not away: Akilina

I’d think that there’d be few of us out there who’ve not reached a crossroads or two in our lives. Times when hard decisions needed to be made, decisions that were only possible after much soul searching, and sometimes, sacrifice.

Patricia A. Bowmer’s Akilina: Out of the Woods is very much the story of just such a crossroads. Halley is at rock bottom, lost both literally and figuratively:

“Halley has led a life marred by indecision and poor choices. Abused by lovers and herself, when she marries Sean, a good man, she can’t bear his love. The day she plans to leave him, her car is forced from a suspension bridge, plunging deep into a fast-flowing river. But Halley is given one more chance, when ten-year-old Eden opens the door between Halley’s past, present and future. She embarks on a wild and dangerous adventure, through dark woods, vast tundras, and to the top of the highest peaks, encountering her long-ago selves, and battling a mysterious but strangely familiar nemisis. Frightened, lost, but determined to succeed, she is in search of herself, her baby, and a life worth living.”

The novel is a story of heartbreak, reflection and self-analysis.

One of the first things that struck me about this novel is the intense physicality of the story, Halley’s body, breath and presence are strongly felt, and as she becomes disorientated but wildly-driven in the wilderness, her physical activity becomes a major focus of the novel:

“…she was reminded of the joy of speed – she increased the speed herself to a spirited run. It was not a fleeing sort of run; it was a run of celebration. The exhilaration of running downhill! There it was, in the sound of her feet on the loose leaves, in the sweat that formed on her brow and arms.”

The physicality isn’t really surprising, given the background of the author, Patricia A. Bowmer. I had a chance to catch up with Patricia earlier this year, and it was obvious from the outset that she held a great passion for activity, for fitness and for a joyful state of mind. On chatting to me, she gave a little more information as to how this novel came about…

***

I began adventure racing in 2003, to challenge my limits.  The racing has informed writing for both my non-fiction book In Pursuit of Joy: Life Lessons from Exhilaration, and my novel Akilina: Out of the Woods.

I have competed in a few different types of adventure racing, all of which have helped to build up the experiences which I’ve now written about. The events have included:

Sprint Races in Hong Kong which involved coastal rock scrambling, trail running, climbing up and down waterfalls, steep hills, swimming in the sea and in reservoirs. I’ve competed in about 20 of these, in places like Sai Kung, Lamma Island, Lantau Island, and Repulse Bay.

Orienteering Oriented Races.  I’ve done several of these in Australia, including ones at Lysterfield Lake, the You Yangs, and Daylesford (the Wombat State Forest).  They have involved trail running, mountain biking, swimming and kayaking, in two-person teams.

Straight trail running which is similar to adventure racing without the major obstacles.  I competed in the Salomon Trail Series in 2011, with events at Mount Macedon, the Dandenongs, and Studley Park.

Multi-Sport races held at Lorne (The Anaconda Adventure Race).  I did the 15k trail race in a team of 3.  My team mates did a 1.2k swim, a 12k kayak, and an 18k mountain bike.

Tough Bloke/Cool Chick Challenge included an 8k trail run, combined with man-made obstacles like swinging on ropes, monkey bars, climbing over walls, etc.  Hard-core!

The final chapter in In Pursuit of Joy described my early experiences racing, some of which I did to provide further material for that book.

Much of the “adventure” text in Akilina comes from my experiences in rough terrain in these races, and the emotions brought about by battling this terrain.

My firm belief is that the lessons we learn in sports like adventure racing directly influence the other areas of our lives.  In the woods and mountains, I learned to trust myself and my abilities.  Halley’s journey teaches her something akin to this.

***

It is clear that in this ambitious novel, full of allegory and illustration – that the link between the body and the mind is close and vital. Halley learns to trust her intuition, difficult but valuable. She also, through meeting her ‘other selves’, faces her demons, learns to trust in her own abilities and in the long run, forgives herself. Only at this point can she make the important decisions on which her future depends.

This is an intriguing novel, and holds many valuable lessons.

If you’d like to find out more about the author, Patricia, you can visit her website. Her work is very inspiring, and she’s lots to share.

Buy your own copy of Akilina: Out of the Woods at the TBYL Store!


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On the calendar

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve fairly well had my head constantly in one book or another. This, of course is one of my favourite things to do, but once it’s been a few weeks I do start to feel that maybe I’m missing out on something that’s going on. It’s then that I know it’s time to start perusing the events calendars and making some bookings, which is exactly what I did.

I thought I’d share a few choice finds with you, which will in turn give you an idea of the event reviews coming up over the next few months.

First up, I’ve booked myself a ticket to a fantastic event being presented by the Wheeler Centre and the St James Ethic Centre. Freedom of Speech is Over Rated is a debate which promises to be enlightening, entertaining and perplexing. The line-up is impressive; Marcia Langton, Michael Gawenda and Catherine Deveny arguing for the proposition and Julian Burnside, Gretel Killeen and Arnold Zable speaking for the opposing side. I think it’s fair to say that the night might get a little heated, and it’s most definitely bound to get a little cheeky.

It’s being held at the Melbourne Town Hall, and you can book tickets here if you’re keen.

Next is a free exhibition currently being held at the State Library of Victoria. Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond, showing until 1 July 2012, is a celebration of Persian manuscripts and affords us the opportunity to see a selection of beautiful and rare original manuscripts.


Somewhat selfishly, I might sell this one as a day-trip and take the kids into the city for the day. After all, Oscar has been nagging me to go back to the ‘Big Library’ ever since the Children’s Book Festival. It’ll be good for them… If you want to find out more about the event, you can visit the exhibition’s beautiful website here.

Lastly, this event is a little bit further away, but Evan and I are both very excited about it already. We’ve got tickets to hear Christopher Paolini speak. Christopher is of course, the author of the incredibly successful Eragon series and his story is an inspirational one. I can’t wait to hear more about just how he managed to put Eragon together at the tender age of fifteen and I think Evan is just excited about seeing the author of a book he’s reading as we speak – brilliant timing! The event is being presented by the Melbourne Writers Festival crew, and will be held 21 June 2012. You can book tickets here.

Plenty to do, learn and write about! Love it!

Have you got any planned bookish outings on the calendar?

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My Monday: Masterpiece?

I’m a bit pressed for time today, so I here’s a very quick pic.

Last week I bravely took myself off to a friend’s house for a painting night – I’d promised myself at the start of the year that I’d make some attempts to rekindle my ‘artistic side’ and this seemed like a pretty good way to start.

I’m so glad that I went. We had the lovely evening; wine, chocolate, music and conversation. And I made this…

It’s no masterpiece, but I’m extremely happy to have a finished piece after one evening’s work and at least it’s decent enough to hang on the wall for a little while. Also, much to my delight I’ve also got a bit of an urge to paint some more now too!

When you’ve got a second, why don’t you check out Curry Girl’s beautiful work too, on her blog here. Her hospitality and instruction was wonderful and very, very helpful.

Do you paint? Draw? Has it been a while?

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Who’s right? Lone Wolf, by Jodi Picoult

Ok, I’ll admit, Lone Wolf is my first Jodi Picoult read.

I’ve a copy of Perfect Match on my bookshelf, but I’ve not read it. I’ve of course heard a lot about My Sister’s Keeper, but have never been brave enough to put myself through it. I’ve been told that Nineteen Minutes is quite a bit like Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which I enjoyed.

In short, it was high time that I had a look at Picoult and her skilful storytelling.

Lone Wolf is a fascinating story, an examination of family, loyalty and instinct:

“Edward Warren, twenty-four, has been living in Thailand for five years, a prodigal son who left his family after an irreparable fight with his father, Luke. But he gets a frantic phone call:  his dad lies comatose, gravely injured in the same accident that has also injured his younger sister Cara.

With her father’s chances for recovery dwindling, Cara wants to wait for a miracle. But Edward wants to terminate life support and donate his father’s organs. Is he motivated by altruism, or revenge? And to what
lengths will his sister to go to stop him from making an irrevocable decision?”

It’s a tale of conundrums and contradictions, of challenges facing a family group, all of whom, despite their differences are very likeable. I felt sympathy for all of them, Luke, Georgie, Cara, Edward and Joe, as they struggled to come to terms with the horrific situation facing them:

“There are stages of shock. The first one comes when you walk into the hospital room and you see your father, still as a corpse, hooked up to a bunch of machines and monitors. There’s the total disconnect when you try and reconcile that picture with the one in your head: the same man playing tag with a bunch of wolf pups; the same man who stood eye to eye with you and dared you to challenge him.”

Of course, they not only have the present to struggle with, but also the past. Secrets, guilt, conflicts and unresolvable differences have long come between this family, all of which now would do well to be exposed and dealt with – it’s clear that only then will Cara and Edward be able to heal, both physically and emotionally.

The novel itself is presented from the perspectives of all the main characters, moving from chapter to chapter it reveals the internal workings of each family member. Chapters are headed as Cara, Edward, Luke, Georgie and Joe. I was a little unsure about this device when I first flicked through the book, this kind of structure can be a little convenient. Not so in this case though, as the structure is both effective and appropriate – so much of this novel is about how people feel, about their internal dialogue, and also about how misunderstandings in feeling and thought can lead to very dire outcomes. Being privy to the situation and its emotions from the perspective of all players was not only interesting but also important. Further, it made the resolution to this story far more satisficatory.

Interestingly, Luke’s voice is also included in Lone Wolf, challenging given his vegetative state. In my opinion though, it is clear why he is given a voice – his reminiscing about his time in the wild with his wolf family is quite vital to the complexities of this family situation. While his children ponder on the state of their human family, both past and present, Luke, in what might be his final days, focuses entirely on his wolf pack:

“Later that day I was sitting with my knees drawn up when the beta loped closer and suddenly lunged, grabbing my throat on the underside. I could feel his teeth sinking into my skin, and instinctively I rolled to my back, a position of utter subordination. He wanted to make sure I’d learned what he’d been trying to teach me… The highest-ranking wolf in the pack isn’t the one that uses brute force. It’s the one who can, and chooses not to.”

Initially, it’s hard to understand Luke’s obsession and subsequent neglect of his family, but as the novel goes on, it becomes clearer and more tolerable – and this is part of the journey that his family are also required to make.

Lone Wolf is a really interesting novel and very readable. It’s not overly harrowing, although it will tug at the heart strings to the right degree, and take you on an emotional, intellectual and moral journey.


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True to my word…

I’ve  been invited to my friend’s house for a ‘painting night’ tonight.

I almost said no, and then I remembered this…

So I’ve raided the art box and taken a trip to the art supplies shop, and this is what I’ve come up with…

Wish me luck?

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Project No. 2, tick

It seems to come around so quickly, but it was time again to return our batch of library books to our local library and so I thought it the perfect time to take care of Project No. 2 of The Little Book Adventure. The adventure is a fun year-long program being run by My Little Bookcase (in conjunction with the National Year of Reading).

Once Oscar and I had had one final read of our library books we proceeded to have a wonderful time spreading our love for books. This month, the idea of the project was to leave a little message in a book for the next person to choose it from the library.

After choosing our favourite book (a beautiful, colourful dinosaur story) we set ourselves up. I wrote a note for Oscar, and then he got into the decoration…

He approached his role with great enthusiasm…

…and was very happy with the end product…

A final re-read and then it was ready to go…

We folded it up, slipped it inside the pages of the picture book, and headed to the library to complete our mission.

I only wish I could see the look on the face of the next littlie that reads this book – I hope they get a bit of a buzz out of our little letter.

To find out more about The Little Book Adventure, visit the delightful My Little Bookcase.

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Perfect fit: The Book Thief

Every now and then you find a book that’s a perfect fit, a book that’s just right, a book that you want to re-read almost as soon as you’ve finished the last page.

For me, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was just such a book – it is easily now in my top five.

I had my suspicions from the beginning, from the cover design, the weight of the book, the font – that this was going to be a book that fit me well. This suspicion was confirmed early:

“HERE IS A SMALL FACT…You are going to die”

“I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”

I was hooked. With this we meet the narrator of this perfect, horrifying tale; Death.

You might think that the choice of Death as storyteller would make for a terribly dark affair, but, as he says himself, he is in fact quite amiable. For this story, his omnisciences is required and his practical approach to departure is reassuring, in a pragmatic, yet moving way:

“I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A colour will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.”

Gently…

I was of course immediately endeared to Liesel and her love affair with books and words. Her resilience and resourcefulness whilst in great peril was inspiring, and her humanity and compassion was stunning. For a girl so young, Liesel showed many enviable characteristics not the least of which was her wish to not only survive, but to live – she stole books in the same way that she stole food – and for similar reasons. It was not enough for Liesel to simply feed her body, even in an environment of violence and oppression, the need to feed her appetite for words and ideas was ever present.

I should say though, that my attraction to this book was about more than just the plot. Liesel’s story is very moving, but it’s not all that makes this book so special. In my opinion, The Book Thief is as much about how the story is told, as it is about the story itself. It is poetically told, it ebbs and flows like music. It is skillful prose, and it’s quiet intensity makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Markus’ story made me shiver, cry, smile.

It was amazing to read a book that was so carefully put together, one that was so conscious of its pace and rhythm. I’ve read a lot of good stories over the last few years, but few that have been written so beautifully.

“Steadily, the room shrank, till the book thief could touch the shelves within a few small steps. She ran the back of her hand along the first shelf, listening to the shuffle of her fingernails sliding across the spinal cord of each book. It sounded liked an instrument, or the notes of running feet.”

It goes without saying, that I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.

Have you read The Book Thief? What did you think?


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Winner, Alice coming your way

I’m pleased to announce, that  Anne-marie Baggstrom  is the winner of That Book You Like’s Putting Alice Back Together give-away. Thanks for your entry Anne-marie!


Anne-marie, I’m sure you’ll find this novel very entertaining, and quite moving as well.

Just email me your details (postal address) to info@thatbookyoulike.com.au by end Sunday, 15.04.12 and I’ll make arrangements for a copy to be sent to you! If the prize isn’t claimed, I will redraw on 16.04.12

Thanks to everyone for entering.

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An important story

A quick post today, to give you the heads up on a brand new, very special item in The TBYL Store.

I’m thrilled to be able to stock this very important picture book, My Mum has Breast Cancer, by Lisa Sewards and Harrison Sewards. This book was a great help to me when we were managing our way through breast cancer, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s faced with the difficult situation of talking to kids about this far too common illness.

My Mum has Breast Cancer is the personal story of one Mother’s journey with breast cancer told through the eyes of her 6 year old son.

It aims to provide families with a storybook that gently and compassionately explains the breast cancer journey in an informative and engaging way.  This personal account attempts to accept and normalise the trauma of experiencing cancer, and helps shift the focus, rather like looking into the light instead of the darkness.

The book is written so that children can relate to it, and includes explanations of medical treatments to facilitate discussion between parents, carers and young children.  It assists in opening the lines of communication between you and your child.

The fantastic illustrations tell most of the story on their own.  They also illustrate the heroes we meet in the medical world. It’s suitable for children aged 3-10 years

50% of the sale price of every copy of My Mum has Breast Cancer sold will be donated directly to Breast Cancer Network Australia.

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Iraq, time travel and Vikings. Need more?

It’s lovely isn’t it, having an extra long, long weekend, complete with family feasts, chocolates galore and plenty of reading time?

My little family rarely goes away over the break, preferring rather to bunker down and enjoy some well earned down-time around the house. While the boys enjoy a few extra pyjama days, and some lengthy Playstation sessions, I  tend to make the most of the time and catch up on some reading and writing. This Easter break, I’ve got lots of books to read and quite a few reviews I’ve been looking forward to posting. Today’s review has been a long time coming.

Last weekend, I finally had the chance to pick up Keith Mcardle’s, The Forgotten Land. It has been on the reading pile for some time, but for one reason or another I kept getting distracted away from it. Now I’ve read it, I’m kicking myself that it took me so long to get to – it was a lot of fun.

Sergeant Steve Golburn, an Australian Special Air Service veteran, is tasked with a dangerous mission in Iraq, deep behind enemy lines. When Steve’s 5 man SAS patrol inadvertently spark a time portal, they are thrown into a place far more dangerous and lawless then modern Iraq. Join the SAS patrol on this action adventure into the depths of not only a hostile land, far away from the support of the Allied front line, but into another world…another time.

It’s probably true that you couldn’t get much further away than this, from the last book that I read (Putting Alice Back Together) and in jumping straight from chick lit to sci-fi action, I had to give myself a little bit of time to get used to the subject matter and the pacing. Once I got into the flow of this novel, it was quite a ride.

Mcardles’ novel is precise, technical and action packed. At first I thought it an unusual combination – military adventure meets time travel – but then I thought again. It’s not actually that unusual a mix, and as I read on, sci-fi staples such as Stargate and Battlestar Galactica come to mind. It also reminded me a bit of John Birmingham’s Axis of Time trilogy, albeit a little less tongue in cheek.

The Forgotten Land features all the usual suspects, the fearless leader, the sharp shooter, the loose cannon:

“What they didn’t know was that he was a fearsome fighter with a short temper and could become very agressive, very quickly. One unfortunate soldier found this out the hard way and spent the best part of a week in hospital as a result. Will McDonald loved deception, particularly when it came to fighting and was a fan of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. He had never lost a fight. Will was respected by those who knew him.”

The story itself starts out military; secret deployments, harsh Middle-Eastern conflicts, and weapon specs and equipment inventories. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take long before the plot takes a turn to the strange:

“The crystal in Steve’s palm emitted a powerful glow. On closer inspection the light thrown from the crystal was pulsating slightly, almost like a heartbeat.”

In short, this crystal causes no end of trouble, and Steve and his boys find themselves in ancient Denmark with a whole new battle to wage.

Mcardles story is intriguing and action packed. There are definitely a few guys I know who’ll probably nag me to borrow this book, and I think they’ll really enjoy it. What’s not to enjoy when it comes to hand to hand combat and Viking battles to the death.

If you’d like to find out more about The Forgotten Land, you should visit Keith’s website here.

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