Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: Citadel by Kate Mosse

Citadel (Languedoc, #3)Citadel by Kate Mosse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Those robbers, those traitors and oath-breakers adorned with the cross who have destroyed me, neither I nor mine have laid hold on one of them who has not lost his eyes, his feet, his fingers and his hands! And I rejoice to think of those I have killed and regret the escape of those who got away." - Raymond Roger of Foix's opinion of the Crusaders invading his land under the guise of heretical cleansing, 1215.

It was Otto Rahn (a member of the German SS and a real person) who invented the connection between the Nazi belief in a superior race (Ayran) and the Cathars in 1937. Rahn also claimed that it was the Cathars who had possession of the Holy Grail and it was these beliefs (completely fabricated) that the Nazis propagated during WWII. Kate Mosse has taken the life and death of the medieval Cathars and this modern, fake Nazi version of history as the basis for her Languedoc series.

It works extremely well.

Citadel is the third (and final) book in the Languedoc trilogy. It is set on the border between France and Spain during the Nazi occupation of the region in WWII. It tells the story of Sandrine Vidal, native Carcassonais, her sister and a group of friends who make up the female resistence group 'Citadel', determined to expose the secrets of the Nazi occupation.

At the centre of the story is the Codex, an ancient text condemned as heretical by the Church during the early middle ages, but saved from destruction by a Christian monk named Arinius, who takes the Codex and hides it in the Pyrenees Mountains. Undisturbed for centuries it is now being sought by the Nazis who wish to harbour its power for their own cruel purpose. However, with the assistance of Audric Baillard, Sandrine and the Citadel network intend to recover it first and raise a ghost army that will once and for all remove the invaders from their homeland.

Although most of the characters in this story are fictional, Mosse makes clever, subtle connections between those that are imaginary and actual historical figures. For example, it is the fictional Antione Dejean who learns of the Codex from the historical Otto Rahn; Sandrine's fictional neighbours by the name of Fournier are Nazi informants, whilst the historical Jacques Fournier was a Cistercian monk who helped bring about the destruction of the Cathar faith during the 13th Century (and later became pope Benedict XII); and the fictional Audric Baillard has a grandmother named Esclarmonde, the historical Esclarmonde of Foix being a famous Cathar Perfect (holy woman).

It is these connections between the past and the fictional setting of the book that made it particularly enjoyable for me. I liked that Mosse held this connection and carried it over and through the distance of time in a sense of "history repeating" - the type that only hindsight can give us. There is wonder in the idea that there are certain traits - not just genetic similarities but inherent beliefs and motivations - that are passed down through generations in a neverending battle of good vs evil.

However, I do have a bit of a gripe: At times the similarity Mosse draws between the persecution of the Cathars during the 13th Century and the suffering experienced by the Jews in WWII is not particularly subtle. In fact, it almost feels forced, which is unnecessary: Anyone who has read the previous two novels (Labyrinth and Sepulchre) will perfectly understand the connection without the need for the author to spell it out to them. I felt as though Mosse wasn't giving me credit as a reader when she did this.

The other, minor complaint I have to make is that the story began to drag a little near the end. I knew there was the big event just around the corner but it seemed to take forever to get there, and then when it finally arrived it was over so quick! Then the story just ended. That left me feeling slightly unsatisfied.

However, what makes this story worthy of a 4-star rating (even 4 and a half stars, really) is the combination of the characters and the setting of the story. Citadel is about ordinary people doing the most extraordinary things to save others, even if they must sacrifice themselves in order to do so. It's a beautiful and inspiring novel about about finding strength, keeping faith, and resisting the influence of evil inherent in ignorance and hate.

I highly recommend this series but it needs to be read in its intended order to truly appreciate Kate Mosse's Cathars.

Author Scott Bartlett has been kind enough to offer one lucky reader of this blog an e-book copy of Royal Flush.
All you have to do to enter the draw is to leave a comment on this post. Please provide an email address so that if you win the author can get in touch with you to arrange delivery of the e-book. Entries will be taken until midnight (Australian Central Standard Time) on Thursday, 31 January 2013. The winner will be announced on Saturday, 2 February 2013.
Giveaway is open to everyone because we all deserve a free book every now and then.
Best of luck! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Week in Pictures...

** It was a pretty uneventful week, despite the burst of cooler weather.
** I reorganised and sorted and cleaned.
** I came down with an ear infection. I could put up with the fever, the lethargy and the general ickiness, but I could not handle the pain. I didn't complete any of the mail art pieces I started because I spent most of my time on the lounge watching nothings on television and feeling sorry for myself.
** I finished one fantastic book and started another.
** I whittled away an afternoon in the kitchen after an electricity blackout (hurray for gas cooking!) and made tomato soup, herb foccacia, and preserved eggplant in oil.
** Shane had work in Port Germein so the Bailey-dog and I tagged along and went for a splash on the beach. The tide was out - perfect for a certain Spoodle that cannot swim, although he still managed to dive head-first into one of the creeks (estuary?) after misjudging its depth. He got a mouthful of sea water and splashed his way back to the bank. Funniest thing I ever saw.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“I so seldom had to dispose of a human body myself, I was at a loss. Fairies turned into dust, and vampires flaked away. Demons had to be burned. Humans were very troublesome.”
- Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Deadlocked is the twelfth instalment in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. In this novel, Sookie has to put her sleuthing skills into action once again after a "fangbanger" (i.e. a human who likes to fraternise with vampires) is killed at a party hosted by Sookie's beau, Eric Northman. All the evidence suggests that Eric was responsible for the human's death, but did he do it? Sookie doesn't believe so and sets out on an investigation to prove Eric innocent. As a result Sookie is - yet again - left wondering why she allows herself to get caught up in the nasty world of Vampire Politics.

In addition to the vampires, there's trouble brewing within her own supernatural clan and Sookie suspects that a magical heirloom left to her by her grandmother is to blame. You see, the type of magical item that Sookie has inherited can provide its owner all that they desire, but Sookie is wary of the consequences of her utilising it. Also, she doesn't really know what it is she truly wants.

Deadlocked is the second-to-last book in the series and as is to be expected, Harris is beginning to draw the story to a close. Loose ends are finally being tied off and there are fewer tangents. However, I continue to be particularly frustrated by the inconsistency in Eric's character. In the previous instalment (Dead Reckoning) he was an ass, but in Deadlocked he has been transformed into a bit of a wimp. Sookie seems to be more in control of the situation than what Eric does, and Eric's supposed to be one of the most intimidating and powerful vampires on the face of the planet. As he is represented in Deadlocked it is difficult to imagine why anyone would bother trying to bring him down; to me he seems defeated already.

Another problem with Harris' new version of Eric is that he doesn't really feature in the story all that often, even though the plot is centred around him. He's there, kind of in the background somewhere, but he's not an active participant in the events. It is almost as if Eric has become the means by which Harris can re-introduce vampire Bill Compton as the central vampire to the story. Bill continues to charm his way back into Sookie's life and it's difficult not to draw the conclusion that Sookie will end where she began, romantically speaking. And if I'm perfectly honest, that really annoys me after all the effort Harris put into making him unlikeable and effectively fading him out as a central character earlier on in the series.

I also cannot fathom why on earth Harris insists on making every male character in this series unable to resist Sookie's feminine charms. I don't think I've encountered a character more alluring and irresistable! And it comes across as fake self-indulgence that we learn all this from Sookie herself. I don't find it to be a particularly endearing quality of our heroine, although perhaps modesty isn't in Sookie's genetic makeup.

Even though Deadlocked is further improvement on the disappointment that was books 8, 9 and 10, there remains a few issues with the characters and the storyline that have not, as yet, been resolved. Being the penultimate novel in the series, I had expected Harris to build on the constants in her characters rather than trying to force major, last-minute changes. I am more than curious to see how Sookie's story will end, even though I fear it won't be the finale I had hoped for.
Author Scott Bartlett has been kind enough to offer one lucky reader of this blog an e-book copy of Royal Flush.
All you have to do to enter the draw is to leave a comment on this post. Please provide an email address so that if you win the author can get in touch with you to arrange delivery of the e-book. Entries will be taken until midnight (Australian Central Standard Time) on Thursday, 31 January 2013. The winner will be announced on Saturday, 2 February 2013.
Giveaway is open to everyone because we all deserve a free book every now and then.
Best of luck!

Monday, January 21, 2013

I think I have too much stuff.

 Ever have those days where you look around your house and wonder how on earth you managed to accumulate so much stuff?

Today was one of those days for me. I cannot explain how it happened, especially since I'm quite the minimalist when it comes to home decor, but my writing desk had been in utter chaos since before Christmas, and the mess taking residence on the display cupboard in the second bedroom seemed to be growing. I couldn't find things. Stuff was getting lost amongst other stuff. It was a nightmare and it was high time I did something about it!
So today I got organised!

I cleared everything off the writing desk and moved it, piece by piece, to the dining room table, organising by category as I went. Once everything had been removed I dusted, disinfected and then began the far more enjoyable task of putting everything back onto the desk, but this time everything had its place. Whatever I don't need on a day-to-day basis has been packed away and only those items pertaining to the task of writing remain. Perhaps I'll find myself sending a torrent of letters this week, now that I have the space in which to write them.

It was the same sad state of affairs in the spare room: The display cupboard we keep in there (on account of it not actually fitting anywhere else due to its size) had been lost under paper, loose recipes, books, magazines, paint cards and shop catalogues, paperwork and what is supposed to be our bushfire survival kit  - only half done (there is a list in aforementioned kit of the things currently missing from said kit, so in the event of a bushfire I at least know what it was I was supposed to take with me).
The loose recipes were the most time-consuming: I sorted them into categories and then put them into an arch lever file. After that I cleared everything else off the cupboard, dusted and made space for the books and magazines. Anything that didn't have a home now does, and everything is stacked neat and tidy - there should be no excuses for not being able to find anything.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the clutter piles up, especially when you've been stuck inside almost every day for near on a month. But at least the weather provides the perfect excuse for a bit of spring midsummer cleaning. I don't know about you, but decluttering, being organised and having routine and purpose is almost therapeutic.

Wouldn't you agree?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Week in Pictures...

** The garden is a wonderful place to be: We had a slight reprieve from scorching summer temperatures this week (2 whole days!) so I got out into the vegie patch, did a bit of mulching, some pruning and picking. I am genuinely surprised by how well eggplants (aubergines) and potatoes survive persistent daytime temperatures of 40+ (degrees Celsius, obviously). They are faring better than the tomatoes, which are really beginning to look tired and forlorn.
** Also looking tired and forlorn is the patch of garden that is supposed to be our lawn. Once-upon-a-time it was beautifully green and lush, but that was during the La Nina years. These days a decent shower of rain is as scarce as hen's teeth, and the salinity of bore water tends not to do wonders for a garden in crisis. I think it's time we returned to the books and begin to look at other landscaping options for the patch of lawn that simply refuses to grow.
** I picked our first eggplant this week and am now looking forward to more as I want to try my hand at making aubergines in oil (my favourite way to eat eggplant). I have a fancy of it on toast with crumbled fetta for lunch one day in the coming week, so watch this space (that's assuming it works out, of course!).
Did you spend time in the garden this week?

Friday, January 18, 2013

365 Mail Art Project: Week 15

Over the past four years or so I've collected a number of gardening magazines with landscaping ideas that are simply impractical for our climate, but instead I've found them quite useful for mail art purposes.
Before throwing them into the recycling I now pilfer the best pictures and turn them into envelopes. Earlier this week I was watching birds enjoy the sprinklers in the backyard and was inspired to make these birdy envelopes.
#46 of 365:
Birdy no. 1 is for Hannah in England...

#47 of 365:
Birdy no. 2 is for Ashley in Canada...

#48 of 365:
Birdy no. 3 will be on its way to Rusty in the USA...

#49 of 365:
...Whilst Birdy no. 4 has a much shorter journey to Jen in Queensland.
I'd also like to say a big thank you for all the comments and emails I've received in response to this project. I haven't yet had the opportunity to reply to everyone (I'm easily overwhelmed) but really appreciate the encouragement. I also wanted to let those people still waiting for something know that they will receive a piece of mail art from me - eventually.
I'm also still looking for more people to send mail art to, so if you'd like to receive something pretty and handmade in the post please email me with your details and I'll add you to my list.
--> sorcha (dot) sidhe (at) gmail (dot) com

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse, #11)Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“One of the most wonderful, and the most appalling, things about Eric loving me was that he didn't give a shit about anyone else.” - Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Dead Reckoning is the 11th instalment in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. Sookie now lives in a world where vampires and shifters mingle with the human constituent on a daily basis - and everyone knows about it. But that doesn't mean everyone's happy with the situation, so when Merlotte's bar is firebombed suspicion falls directly on the anti-shifters in the community. However, Sookie believes the culprit may be less obvious - and more dangerous.

Dead Reckoning is a slight improvement on books 8, 9 and 10, which were a little stagnant plot-wise, yet it still managed to raise more questions than it provided answers to.

As the central character I would expect to find Sookie grow and develop with each book, yet in Dead Reckoning she appears to undertake no personal development whatsoever. I must admit that the ramblings about Christian Morals that takes place inside her head is a little too cliche for my tastes. Sookie's head is certainly a confusing place to be on occasions. The inconsistencies in her character itself - strong one minute and then a weeping mess the next - make me wonder if Sookie has some kind of disorder she needs to get help for.

However, it is her relationship with Eric in this book that truly sent me bananas: Eric is a bitch to everyone and completely dominates Sookie, and yet Sookie just kind of lets it slide. What's more frustrating, though, is that she's aware she's doing it but blames it on the blood bond she has with him. Even though she can't get her own private life together she still has the audacity to preach to her friends about theirs'! WTF, Sook?

Whilst she has all this drama involving Eric to contend with, next door there's Bill Compton, who likes to show up occasionally and remind Sookie why she fell in love with him in the first place. Bill is slowly but surely worming his way back into the storyline (and therefore Sookie's life), but am I the only one who finds him a bit dull? At the beginning - the very start of the series - when he was the only vampire on the block I'll admit that I was taken with his quiet, dark and mysterious presence. However, when Eric Northman came along, bursting at the seems with charisma and intrigue, Bill faded into the background and I was perfectly okay with that. It's pretty much impossible not to be swayed by a badass viking vampire whose hard exterior hides a soft and chewy centre. But in Dead Reckoning Harris has turned Eric into a secretive, violent and downright nasty a-hole who is kind of difficult to like. And let us not forget Sam Merlotte. Good ole, reliable Sam: Sookie sings his praises and always feels obligated to help him out of a bind. So what we have in this novel is a charming Bill, an irresistable Sam, and an unrecognisable Eric. What game are you playing at, Harris?

As a whole, I found this novel to be far more enjoyable than the last, but I can't help but think the series could have been tied off and finished more neatly had it not been dragged through books 8, 9 and 10. Now I'm in a situation where I hope each instalment will return me to the amazing and awesome pleasure and excitement of earlier books (#4, for example), but it just never quite gets there. Instead each book leaves me feeling a little underwhelmed and I don't think Harris has it in her anymore. A shame, really, because the world of Sookie Stackhouse still retains so much potential.

Author Scott Bartlett has been kind enough to offer one lucky reader of this blog an e-book copy of Royal Flush.
All you have to do to enter the draw is to leave a comment on this post. Please provide an email address so that if you win the author can get in touch with you to arrange delivery of the e-book. Entries will be taken until midnight (Australian Central Standard Time) on Thursday, 31 January 2013. The winner will be announced on Saturday, 2 February 2013.
Giveaway is open to everyone because we all deserve a free book every now and then.
Best of luck!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Week in Pictures...

** As I type this it is overcast outside and a refreshing, cool breeze is coming through the window: The complete opposite to the sweltering conditions we had at the start of the week! The heatwave finally broke on Wednesday when it reached 31*C (bliss!), but not before the garden suffered some serious heat damage: I have had to cut back the cucumber vines that got burnt to a crisp; the geraniums are a shrivelled mess; and the lamb's ear appears to have melted. Oh, summer, how I despise thee.
** I picked the first of the cherry tomatoes this week - so sweet and juicy. I consume half of what I've picked before I even make it from the vegie patch to the kitchen. It's alright, though, because the plants are loaded and still flowering. I wish I'd had such luck with all the tomatoes I planted, but no. I am resolved never to purchase seedlings from the supermarket ever, ever again. LESSON LEARNED. Instead I've been browsing online for organic heirloom varieties to grow from seed. (If you're familiar with purchasing heirloom seeds online I could use the recommendations).
** I send out a lot of mail art but don't usually receive a lot, so I was absolutely tickled pink to receive two pieces in the mail this week, one of which was an amazing handmade postcard from Heleen in the Netherlands. It has a snail on it. A snail with a letter. LOVE IT.
** I am quite content to sit for hours with Rhonda Hetzel's Down to Earth, a simple living magazine and a pot of tea.
What simple pleasures did you enjoy this week?

Friday, January 11, 2013

365 Mail Art Project: Week 14

At the start of the week I received a wonderfully decorated letter from my penfriend, Laura, in Victoria, Australia. She'd decorated it with Mary Engelbreit pictures and included extras for me to use as part of my 365 Mail Art Project. Perfect timing, really, as I'd struggled to come up with a theme for this week: I like to use themes as they keep me focused on the task at hand. Also, it makes each piece like a series within a series and I think that's kind of nifty.
Do you find creating with a theme in mind easier as well or are you completely spontaneous?
#40 of 365:
The first of the Mary Engelbreit pieces, which I entitled "Midsummer", is on its way to Raquel in Sweden, whose street is Midsommargrand. I assure you that was entirely accidental.

#41 of 365:
Happy red and black thoughts are on their way to Sarah in the USA. It'll be interested to see how well the brad travels through the post: I've received mail art envelopes with these attached in the past but this is the first time I've tried using brads on mail art myself. Fingers crossed!

#42 of 365:
Getting lost in a good book is something I've been doing a lot of lately! This colourful creation is on its way to Riley in the USA.

#43 of 365:
Since I was giving brads a try I thought I'd experiment with buttons as well: I've no doubt we will know how well they travel through the post soon enough. Louise in the UK is quite talented with the sewing machine, so I made this envelope especially for her.

#44 of 365:
This owl is so cute! I'm sending him to Janice-Marie in Australia with a few other little surprises.

#45 of 365:
Rain is something we definitely need right now and I know Kerri-Lynne in Australia could use some too, so this envelope seemed perfectly apt.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review + Giveaway: Royal Flush by Scott Bartlett

Royal FlushRoyal Flush by Scott Bartlett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Royal Flush is not the kind of book you'd normally find me reading. It is described by the author as a "medieval comedy with elements of fantasy", and consists of four stories about one central character, the King.

Now the King is a blundering, ridiculous, infuriatingly incompetent kind of king. He has a fondness for executions and wants for little, yet his romantic life is, well, non-existent. To rectify this, the King begins a search for the love of his life, but the romantic bliss he unquestionably believes he deserves is repeatedly interrupted by the inconvenient responsibility of running the Kingdom.

The stories are well-written, witty and easy to follow, constructed in a way that brought back fond memories of 'Blackadder' and 'Monty Python' skits. The only downside to this is that sometimes the "skit" feels endless, the humour of it wearing thin, and the characters come across as a little one-dimensional. I found the King to be quite impersonable, even though his escapades and the constant trouble he finds himself in are definitely chuckle-worthy. The thing about Royal Flush is that there's little depth to it, but in all honesty, I think that's the point. This is a great book for people who are not enthusiastic readers and/or who don't like a lot of drama in their fiction. It's a read that doesn't require a lot of mental effort to keep up with the story and once I came to terms with that I found I was able to enjoy the book more thoroughly.

Oh, and I loved the goat!

Many thanks to the author for inviting me to read and review this novel.
The author, Scott Bartlett, has been kind enough to offer one lucky reader of this blog an e-book copy of Royal Flush.
All you have to do to enter the draw is to leave a comment on this post. Please provide an email address so that if you win the author can get in touch with you to arrange delivery of the e-book. Entries will be taken until midnight (Australian Central Standard Time) on Thursday, 31 January 2013. The winner will be announced on Saturday, 2 February 2013.
Giveaway is open to everyone.
Best of luck!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Heatwave Survival: Days 7 - 9

[Day 8: Temperature peaked at 46*C at around 3pm yesterday]
[Iced tea: Perfect thirst-quencher on hot, hot days]
Are you tired of me writing about the weather yet? I wouldn't blame you if you were. I'm tired of it consuming my every waking hour: I am constantly worrying about the garden and having to keep it damp and shaded from the sun, but despite my efforts we are starting to lose plants and I'm feeling a little disillusioned by it all.
Today is day 9 of official heatwave. The BoM predicted a maximum temperature of 37*C today but it has already reached 39*C. I think, perhaps, where the weather is measured there is a sea breeze that is not strong enough to penetrate through to this side of the Ranges. However, we are hopeful that tomorrow will bring about a break in the weather: 31*C. It's going to be in the high-30s again by Thursday but 31*C will feel like absolute bliss, even if it is only for one day. I've already started making a list about all the things I can do whilst the temperature is reasonable. I might even be able to use the oven.
In the meantime I'm slothing under the air con drinking copious amounts of iced tea. Does anyone else drink it? I make homemade lemon iced tea and keep a jug in the fridge and a mountain of ice cubes in the freezer. I thought I'd share my "recipe" incase anyone else out there suffering in the heat wants to give it a try.
Lemon Iced Tea
You will need:
3 - 4 pure black ceylon teabags (I use 3 teabags of Lipton black)
500ml boiling water
A 2 litre jug
Lemon juice*
Sugar to taste
Ice cubes
1. Put the kettle on. Whilst you wait for it to boil, put 3 - 4 of your teabags in a measuring jug. Pour 500ml of boiling water over the teabags and let them sit for 5 minutes. Be mindful of the time:  If you let them brew too long the tea will turn bitter.
2. Remove the teabags and pour tea into a 2 litre jug and top up with cold water. Put in fridge to chill.
3. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a glass, add sugar to sweeten and a splash of hot water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Then fill your glass with the chilled tea from the fridge, adding a few ice cubes when you're done.
4. Drink. Enjoy. Repeat.
* I use fresh lemon juice because I like the tang it adds to the tea. However, if you don't have fresh juice you can use cordial in its place - minus the sugar, of course, because cordial is sweet enough already.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Week in Pictures...

** Due to the persistent heat we've spent most of this week indoors. I think poor Bailey-dog is a little stir-crazy as he insists on going outside so he can lay in the sun. I keep telling him he'll get sunburnt and what-not but I think he's in denial about the whole thing.
** The garden is...coping. The zucchini is faring worst with this heat and the tomato plants look a little limp by the end of each day but there's still hope: The cherry tomatoes are ripening, there's cucumbers on the vines, cobs of corn and plenty of baby eggplant. The tent village we created to keep everything shaded is working surprisingly well, although I still need to venture down to the garden three times a day to ensure the soil remains damp.
** "I am half-sick of salad". Said I.
** To wile away the days I've been keeping myself occupied by reorganising the kitchen cupboards. Dull, no? I've also been reading and indulging in a bit of family research. I've lost count of the number of hours I've spent reading about the Battles of Ypres and searching through military service records, but as a history-nerd I am completely in my element. I'll enjoy it whilst I can because eventually I will have to return to the painfully frustrating task of trying to find people who seemingly never existed.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Heatwave Survival: Days 2 - 6

[Day 5: Yesterday's temperature peaked at 45*C - in the shade.]

[Day 3: Geranium with its leaves starting to curl in on themselves. It has since dropped its blooms and is starting to shed its leaves to conserve energy. I wish I had leaves to shed!]
I've lived my entire life in South Australia, the driest state on the driest continent on earth. I've experienced a few hot summers in my (almost) 32 years and some absolutely scorching days. I remember in 2011 the temperature reaching 47*C the day before Australia Day (25 Jan) and I had to walk the mail to the post office for work. Stepping outside from an air conditioned office was like climbing into an oven: The air was so hot it burnt the insides of my nose and when I breathed in it would catch in my throat and set my eyes to water. The glare off the pavement was blinding and I got sunburnt on the 150m or so journey to the post office and back.
I can also recall the entire family spending a summer camped out in the kitchen, mattresses and sheets moved from the bedrooms and sprawled across the floor when I was about 12 years old. It would have been one of our first Spencer Gulf Summers. I remember the house in permanent darkness, all the blinds and curtains pulled closed in an attempt to keep the heat outside from seeping through the windows.
However, the most ridiculous of summer days that I have had the unfortunate luck to experience would have been when I was no more than 9 years old: We were on my grandparents farm that day and the temperature peaked at a whopping 52*C - in the shade. I remember a congregation of wild birds under the back verandah, their little mouths set apart as they searched out water and tried to stay cool. There are certain things the brain never forgets, like the brightness of the sun or the heat on your skin. I've no idea how we managed to stay cool that day.
Today is day six of a relentless, seemingly neverending heatwave. Yesterday saw temperatures soar right across the southern parts of the country and whilst many of those regions have since been blessed with a cool change, it is not strong enough to penetrate inland and so here in the Ranges the temperature is already hovering around the 40*C mark. We've not seen a day below 39 degrees in the last six.
The BoM is predicting that the awful heat will continue and is looking to break some long-standing records. So for yet another week (at least!) we will continue to be shut indoors with the blinds drawn and the air conditioning permanently running. There's an abundance of ice tea and fresh water in the fridge along with all the heatwave necessities for sustenance: Custard, jelly, stewed fruit, fresh salads and hard boiled eggs.
How's the weather at your place?

Friday, January 4, 2013

365 Mail Art Project: Week 13

This week's mail art theme was 'Ballet', inspired by the 50 Years of the Australian Ballet domestic stamp issue from Australia Post.
#36 of 365:
To Laura in Australia...

#37 of 365:
To Jennifer in Australia....

#38 of 365:
To Samantha in Australia...

#39 of 365:
And finally, a ballerina for Justina in Australia.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

I read too much and review too little. Or so it would seem. I think reading is one of life's most simple yet most fantastic pleasures (could you imagine what life would be like if you could not read?), so in 2013 I aim to share with you my thoughts on the books I've read a little more often.
I've chosen for my first review of 2013 a book I actually read last year, but I've chosen it because I think it makes fantastic summer reading for those in the Southern Hemisphere, and will have anyone in the wintery North pining for the warmth of endless summer days, which - at present - must feel like an age away.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The heat of an Indian summer, the exotic beauty of a valley in the jungle, and the possibility of a homicide make for an entirely unique and gripping mix in the fourth novel in Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series.

Dark Road to Darjeeling sees Lady Julia and her husband, Nicholas Brisbane, embark on a journey into the depths of the Indian jungle to investigate the mysterious death of their friend's husband, heir to the Cavendish Tea Plantation.

Julia and Brisbane are joined by Julia's siblings, Plum and Portia, and along with an array of new, fascinating characters there is also the pleasure of being reunited with some old ones in the most unexpected ways.

The sun-drenched location of the tea plantation in mid-summer is in stark contrast to the dark and brooding setting of the Yorkshire Moors in book #3 (Silent on the Moor). In a way, the bright optimism of a new beginning for Julia and Brisbane is reflected in the warmth and beauty of the setting, yet Julia is fast learning that even the most beautiful surroundings can harbour the most shocking of secrets - and her husband has many.

Courageous and stubborn, Julia insists on involving herself in her husband's work, and for her own safety Brisbane has to concede that she must be taught the tricks of his trade. However, there is still much that Julia has to learn and a remote plantation on the road to Darjeeling is a dangerous place for a novice when there's a murderer on the loose.

Raybourn has - yet again! - effortlessly drawn me into the thrilling world of Lady Julia Grey and her fascinating investigator husband. This is a truly captivating novel that transports the reader to the exotic wonder and danger of 19th Century Colonial India. A murder investigation, a guru, peacocks and a man-eating tiger make Dark Road to Darjeeling a most enjoyable read.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Heatwave Survival: Day 1

[Day 1: Yesterday's temperature peaked at 39*C just before 4pm]
[Day 1: Zucchini plant wilting from the heat, even though it is permanently shaded by 3 quandong trees]
Last night when the clock struck midnight I realised that I cannot remember the last time I saw fireworks on New Years' Eve. Certainly not since we made the Ranges our home: New Years' always seems to fall on a complete fire-ban day and you cannot have fireworks during fire-ban. You could start a bushfire or end up in prison. Or both.
It gets hot here. I may have mentioned it a few times before. Summer in this part of Australia is generally a succession of heatwaves, one after another, and we're just entering our first biggie for the season. A heatwave in South Australia is when the daytime temperature exceeds 37*C for 5 or more consecutive days.
There is no official weather gauge where we live. The nearest BoM weather station is some 40km from here, situated right beside the ocean. We are inland, separated from the sea by an enormous mountain range. Because there are no official weather readings being made here the BoM applies the readings taken at the nearest weather station, but what it is there is often quite different to what it is here. As such, we take our own weather readings.
Despite weather forecasting being an imprecise science, the BoM likes to try and forecast up to 10 days in advance. At present the BoM is predicting that for 8 of the next 10 days the temperature is expected to be greater than 40*C, with 4 of those 8 above 45*C. As the BoM goes no further into the future than 10 days the current heatwave has no known end date.
Prolonged periods of extreme heat are exceptionally exhausting, even with air conditioning. It's too hot to venture outside for too long and we've no swimming pool or ocean to take respite. To ensure the house stays cool inside every window and door is securely closed, along with every blind and curtain drawn to keep the light out. The air conditioning is switched on when the inside temperature reaches 28*C and is left on until the outside temperature falls below 21*C, by which time it is usually dark. It's how I imagine living in a refrigerator would be like.
On the weekend Shane and I prepared the vegie patch for the heat - well, as much as we could, anyway. The plot currently looks like a little community of tents made from strategically-placed pieces of shadecloth and old sheets. Only time will tell how effective they will be, although yesterday afternoon I did spy a mouse keeping cool beneath the stalks of corn, and it was so hot that I didn't have the heart to shoo him away.
First thing every morning I water the vegetable and flower gardens with a bucket, which takes me about an hour (we have a fairly large block). We have been collecting the water from our morning showers in the bathtub and then transferring it to the garden, one bucket at a time.* As it's not rained in so long our rainwater supplies are minimal and the mains supply of water (from a bore) is becoming increasingly saline as summer presses on, which the plants simply do not like. In the evenings I water the vegie patch again, which is connected to a dripper system. The lawn is watered once a week for 20 minutes - not enough to keep it lush and green, but it is enough to keep it alive until the next decent downpour arrives.
Whilst watering this morning the temperature had already reached 35*C. I noticed a lot of plants were starting to hang low and the dry earth beneath my feet was giving off a distinct, smoldering odour, and it was only the beginning of Day 2. Even the geraniums, otherwise tough and hardy, had their leaves curled in on themselves and had begun the process of discarding their blooms to conserve energy. I suspect they know what's coming better than any weatherman would. Geraniums do survival well, I've noticed. When water is scarce they'll drop every flower, leaf and limb until there's nothing more than a grey-green stick poking up out of the earth, and you might think it's dead but it's not: A sort of summer hibernation, is all.
By the end of every summer I know that feeling well.
*This is a fantastic solution to keeping your garden well-watered during a prolonged dry spell and I recommend it if you have the ability (and the time!) to do it. It's amazing how much water would otherwise escape down the drain, mostly wasted, from a single 10-minute shower. However, check that your shampoos and soaps etc are suitable for grey-water use first as you don't want to damage your plants or the soil in your garden from an over-abundance of nasty chemicals.