My Goodreads Challenge 2018: Check!

I’ve passed my Goodreads Challenge 2018 goal, and the books I’ve read are worth talking about!

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At the beginning of the year, I set my Goodreads Challenge goal at 40 books for the year. I figured that was a fair goal, given that I work four days a week at a job that easily takes more than four days a week, and I have other commitments – writing my own books, for example, and rehearsing with the theatre company for a show in May/June before directing and rehearsing my school musical from June to September.

By mid-April, I had read 40 books and extended that goal to 75. There were two reasons for this.

First, being busy, I selected a lot of novellas and short story reads that I could slot in around my busy schedule. A lot of them could be read in the space of thirty minutes to an hour, so they fit into a lunch break really nicely and gave my brain some much needed down time.

Secondly, I hit a patch of writer’s block that hasn’t entirely disappeared yet. Rather than stressing about it, I decided to fuel my imagination and my soul with some great books. I’m still writing poetry, but the fiction brain is on vacation somewhere, and I’m just waiting patiently for it to come back.

So far this year, I’m at the point where I’ve read 77 of 75 books. That’s 77 great Indie authors whose books have received a review and free regular promotion not just on Goodreads and Amazon, but also on the Book Squirrel blog,  Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. Every single one of them is a verified purchase review on Amazon. I’m not saying that in the interests of receiving praise or adulation – instead, I’m rather chuffed at being able to do that for authors whose work I admire. I know how hard it is to get someone to review a book, even if they’ve really enjoyed it.

I also want to tell you how good these books I’ve read are.   I deliberately included some reads that I wouldn’t normally select for myself just to broaden the horizons of my book blog. Some weren’t to my preference genre or content wise, but that doesn’t stop me recognising great writing when I see it. I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed them. There is definitely something for everyone on this list.

You can read my reviews of any books you’re interested in on the Book Squirrel blog, or on Goodreads or Amazon simply by searching for the book.

If you’re not following me anywhere that I post reviews, you are most welcome to follow me on Book Squirrel, Twitter, Facebook, GoodreadsGoogle+ or Pinterest.

So take a look at these fabulous books, see what interests you, and check out some great new reads. 

Clicking on the image will take you directly to my Goodreads Challenge 2018, where you can find details on each book’s author, genre, audience, and publication. 

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Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.

IMG_0035I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.

I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.

From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.

By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.

It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.

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I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.

I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.

My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.

My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.

Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.

It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her.  So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.

 

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Reader Life: Those Horrible Feelings You Get When A Book Is Absolutely Awful.

A reader describes the disappointment of finding a book she had been looking forward to was awful.

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During my lunch break today, I started reading a book I’d been looking forward to reading. I’d bought it because the story looked really interesting, and I was keen to give a new-to-me author a shot.

By the time I had read a few pages, I knew there were problems. The story didn’t go anywhere. More and more errors that should have been edited out were creeping in. Although marketed as a horror story, there were no hints that it was going to turn into one anytime soon… except in a grammatical sense, perhaps.

Still, I persisted. I figured that it had to get better. Right?

Sadly, it didn’t. It got worse. By the time I quit, there were numerous confusions of tense, and multiple blatant errors of spelling, syntax and word choice on a single page. By page 23, there still wasn’t a hint of anything remotely creepy, macabre or scary in the story. That really was the core of my problem – I was bored by writing that wasn’t even really a cohesive story, regardless of its intended genre.

I don’t like quitting. I really don’t. But when my dudgeon starts to rise because I’m not getting the escape I had hoped for in the middle of a ridiculously busy week, and I’ve wasted the time I had set aside to give my brain a break, it’s time to stop. In all honesty, most of the students in my Year 9 English class make fewer mistakes on a page than this writer, and he just hasn’t bothered editing anything, let alone getting anyone– professional or otherwise– to do it for him… I’m done.

In the past, I’ve let one or two authors know via private communication where there are a few really glaring errors that needed fixing. Those things have been fixed, and their book is better because of it. I’ve withheld my review until things were corrected, so that I could give a review that wasn’t full of complaints about errors. Most authors are receptive to that if it’s done discreetly and politely, with constructive help rather than criticism.

This time, though, I’m not going there. I simply don’t have time to fix this book – it’s time consuming, but not impossible, to correct spelling or grammatical errors; how, though, do you fix a broken plot that never does what it promised to do? The problems with this book are far more fundamental than a lack of editing.
angry-2191104_960_720It makes me sad to have to add another title to the small handful of Indie books I’ve read that just weren’t up to scratch. Of the hundreds I’ve read, the vast majority have been great, and some have been among the best books I’ve ever read. It makes me angry that people are willing to sell something which gives other far more disciplined and talented Indie authors a reputation they don’t deserve. The temptation to name and shame is enormous, but I won’t do it.

I’m simply going to walk away and pretend I didn’t pick it up in the first place.

I’ll console myself, and reward myself for my own diplomacy, by setting aside another hour tonight to read something really good from one of my ‘One-Click” authors. That is something guaranteed to make me feel better.

Achieving Balance… Slowly.

As a poet, I am always inspired by the beach and the sea.

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I posted recently about needing to write some positive poetry to balance the number of dark and melancholy poems that I’ve written, so that my next collection isn’t entirely moody, angry and defiant.

On Wednesday evening, between a meeting and a theatre company rehearsal, I grabbed some dinner and headed to one of my favourite spots – the beach. It was an unseasonally mild evening for early May— still 24 celcius when I got there— so I took off my shoes and grounded myself in nature with some deep breaths and my bare feet on the earth. It felt so good to find quietness and solitude there, just the sea, a few gulls and me.

While I sat on the foreshore and pondered the scene before me as evening fell, the beginnings of a poem came to me. Now that it’s finished, I’m pretty happy with it. I love the sensuous, joyful feel of a lovers’ reunion, and I think I’ve captured the moment well.

You can read Sunset Rendezvous at WordyNerdBird Writes. I hope you enjoy it.

 

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Thank you to everyone who took the time to encourage or inspire me with ideas, whether as a comment or in a private message. It means a lot to me that you would do that, and that you’re interested enough in my writing to help me in that way.

 

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Balance.

I’m looking for positives. Feel free to help me out!

pexels-photo-69213Balance is something I often aim for, but things don’t always work out that way.

I’ve just been looking at the poems I have written for my next collection, and the majority are quite dark. I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to write some more positive or happy poems to balance it out.

Easily done. All I need is for the universe to be nice to me, and for wonderful people and happy events to inspire me. No biggie… right?

If you’d like to inspire me, leave a story, an observation, or a happy experience in the comments!

Seriously, Universe… What Am I Doing Wrong?

Apparently, I never learn.

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Only on rare occasions am I ever tempted to feel as though I might just get on top of things.

Other days, like today, I realise yet again just how little most people value me, or anything I do.

Seriously, universe, what am I doing wrong?

I work hard, I’m a loyal friend, and I care more about people than most of them will ever realise. It’s true that I don’t come in the smallest package with the sleekest, glossiest wrapping, but if I’m given the choice of someone who “fits an image” or someone who will both help me and defend me or die trying, I know which person I’d pick to have on my team. I’m not perfect, but who is?

So, tonight I’ve spent a few hours trying to think through and process how I feel and why, In that process, the words of one of my own poems came back to me. I wrote ‘Cold Shoulder’ on a previous occasion when other people’s behaviour left me feeling a similar way.

COLD SHOULDER

Many years I’ve lived on the Cold Shoulder
An inhospitable, stony place –
Where there’s little but frosty silence,
No allowance for comfort or grace.

The chill wind of indifference
Cuts the air without making a sound,
Skittering icy flakes of apathy
And leaves’ skeletons over the ground.

A fine specimen of resilience,
I’m a fine diamond in the rough,
A survivor of hostile conditions
Where life is invariably tough.

I suffer no delusions of love –
For that loss I have frequently wept;
But knowing I don’t matter at all
Is the hardest of truths to accept.

Weary of relentless erosion,
I implore the stone lords for reprieve,
But there is no reward for devotion
To those in whom you don’t believe.

Let them preach not to me of salvation
When they hold all the power in their hands
To inflict such complete desolation –
One could never meet all their demands.

So I remain here on the Shoulder
In this treacherous, heartless place:
Although frigid, this landscape is honest,
And each rock only has the one face.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

 

This is not new territory for me. I have survived every other “kick in the head”, and I’ll survive this one, because I refuse to lay down, shut up and die. And I’ll make all seven people who do actually care about me proud in the process… again.

It does make me wonder, though, why I fall into that same trap of assuming that anyone else ever actually tries to see my worth, or cares about it.
Apparently, I never learn.

 

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‘Cold Shoulder’ is published in ‘The Passing Of The Night’
by Joanne Van Leerdam.

When Evil Seems To Win.

A poet reflects on what inspired her latest piece of dark poetry.

One of the things I find hardest to deal with in life is the perception that sometimes, evil seems to win.

I don’t know why it should surprise me each time it happens, but it still does. I don’t know why people’s cruelty and evil actions still shocks me, but it does.

Let me explain where this train of thought originated.

Not long ago, I witnessed the complete and irreversible downfall of someone I’ve known for some time. I haven’t always necessarily liked that person – less, in fact, as time went on, although that’s not really relevant to this post. I honestly thought that their behaviour couldn’t get any lower than what I had already witnessed, and what I already knew of him. I was wrong.

Please understand that in writing this post, I do not for one moment mean to suggest that I feel sorry for him. I don’t.
I do feel incredibly sorry for those whose trust he, and every other person like him, has broken and abused. My heart breaks for those who find themselves and the rest of their lives shattered among the trail of destruction they leave behind. These things leave permanent scars from which some people never recover.

And there is no denying that I am incredibly angry. How dare he? He can’t say he didn’t know it was wrong. He can’t say he didn’t know what he was thinking. He knew, and he went ahead and did it anyway.

So, as his life unravelled before my eyes, I was left feeling the same about him as I do about everyone who betrays the trust of the people they should be protecting.

Whether it’s broken friendship, corruption, or an absolute degradation of one person by another, I believe that there are powers in this world that celebrate when someone who has always taken a strongly moral stand falls from a position of leadership and finds themselves in a downward spiral of shame and humiliation, especially if it’s a person of faith.

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It was this chain of thought that led me to write ‘The Demons Dance’. It is grim imagery of demons dancing and celebrating around the crumpled form of their latest victim, upon whos miery and death they are completely drunk.

In this poem, as in a number of my others, my love of writing horror and the macabre has combined with my penchant for poetry to produce what I believe is poetry that is both grotesque and beautiful at the same time.

Click to read The Demons Dance.

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When The Words Won’t Come.

Writer’s Block can be brutal, but agonising over it is only going to make things worse.

There are times in every writer’s life when the words just won’t come. Sometimes that lasts an hour. Sometimes it lasts weeks, or months. It’s certainly frustrating, but I refuse to stress over it. 2018-04-19 17.51.23

I’ve been in a “writing dry patch” over the past couple of months. For a while, there was nothing happening: the only thing I was writing was note after note full of ideas. I don’t know why I couldn’t write anything. I just couldn’t.

That came as something of a shock after last year which, although turbulent, painful and draining on both personal and emotional levels, was also incredibly productive. Three books of poetry, two of mild horror, and two fairy tale novellas in an anthology in a year is impressive for someone who teaches high school and needs to sleep occasionally. In one sense, it’s no wonder I ran out of steam. I’m only human, after all.

It was poetry that recently broke the drought for me. In fact, it usually is. Ironically, it was local tragedy in the form of wildfires around my home town on St Patrick’s Day that got the words flowing again. Since the middle of March, I’ve written some poems that I’m really happy with, and I have some others started.

I have so many stories I want to write, but now just doesn’t seem to be the time for that, so I’m saving the notes and plans and outlines until it happens naturally. I know it will. And when it does, I’ll be ready.

In all honesty, my mind is tired. Today at work, I struggled to remember the word for “chair”– and I was in a classroom, surrounded by at least 25 of them at the time! If I forced myself to write those stories now, they’d be rubbish.

So, I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to give my mind and my spirit time to rest, and not worry about all the things I want to write, or feel I should be writing. I’m certainly not going to churn out a bunch of garbage and try to persuade people that it’s “art”. I’m happy to wait, and I think my readers will prefer that, too.

Hopefully in the meantime I’ll be able to write a few more good poems.

Songs and Poetry

Songs and Poetry: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

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In an earlier post, I referred to song lyrics as being a form of poetry.

There are many songwriters who write deeply poetic songs. Elton John and Bernie Taupin, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Billy Joel— they are among the greats. Today, singer/songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry are among the artists whose songs contain some incredibly powerful poetry.

While it might be fun to come up with more examples, I have no desire to try to list them all – I don’t even think that’s really possible. Chances are, some who make my list might not be included in yours. I just named a few to get you thinking.

While many songs rely on a catchy hook or a beat that makes people want to dance, it’s the poetry of others that gives them the power to move a person emotionally, or to profoundly affect someone’s thoughts and actions.

Consider the influence John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ had on an entire generation. Similarly, Simon & Garfunkel touched hearts and lives worldwide with the soaring power of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, while the poignant emotion of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” or “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is still hard to resist.

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but poetic songs seem to attach themselves to part of my soul and remain there, indelible and timeless.

This line of thinking led me to trying to work out which song contains my favourite “song poetry”. That’s actually a really tough question, so I decided I’d listen to a few of my favourites and try to narrow it down.
A week later, I think I have an answer. (Disclaimer: this answer is likely to change at any moment.)

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This song is a brilliant extended metaphor about identity and finding one’s place in the world. The contrast between a rock or an island with the vulnerability of being human, and the paradox of isolation being a form of sanctuary, are ideas which should be jarring, yet they are delivered with such finesse that we’re left thinking, “I totally get that!” They’re ideas and images we all understand, and the poet communicates uses a depth of emotion and human experience to say things that many other people could never bring themselves to verbalise.

The clincher for me is the final verse. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” That’s exactly what I do! I retreat into fictional worlds. I write stories and poems that help me to deal with life. I use poetry to crystallise my thoughts and feelings, and use my writing to communicate what it’s hard to say any other way.

As I was reflecting on that final verse, a poem I wrote last year came to mind. I’m not suggesting that I think I’m as good as Paul Simon, but it does explore similar ideas of hiding behind – or within – the books and words I have written.

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It was written during a time of great personal conflict and turbulence, and expresses the refuge I found in my writing. In different poems written during this period, I portrayed myself at different times as a fighter, as a hostage, and as a traveler. At no time did I portray myself as willing to surrender to the storm that raged around me, nor to anything else that tried to do me in. In my writing, I was strong. I was safe.

When I went back to read that poem as part of the process of writing this post, I was stunned to discover the similarity of the ideas to those explored by Paul Simon, even though my poem was neither based on nor drawn from his lyrics.

I was also confronted by the warning of the last two lines. I have to take care when I feel or experience something, or when I write something powerful, that I can’t afford to unpack and live there. I still have to live my life and be who I am, and I still have to deal with whatever life throws at me.

After all, I am neither a rock nor an island, no matter how much I might sometimes wish I were.


‘Safe’ is published in my book, ‘The Passing Of The Night’.

 

 

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When Life Gets Out Of Control, I Write Poetry.

What makes an introverted poet breathe fire?

Two weeks ago, I had finished an incredibly busy first term at school and was looking forward to a well-earned break for a couple of weeks.
When people asked me, “Are you doing anything for the holidays?” I gave them my standard answer: “As little as possible.”
You’d think I’d learn not to tempt fate like that, but apparently not.

Family came to stay, visitors called in, things happened. I just needed to rest… but when was that ever going to happen? I wanted to write, but there was no time for that, either. I began to feel as though life was out of control.

And then, I started to get angry. It wasn’t directed at anyone or anything in particular – instead, it was a rumbling discontent within me. As the only introvert in a house full of rampant extroverts, I felt misunderstood and somewhat neglected.

One afternoon, my house fell quiet for a few moments. I sat in the comfy chair in my study with a book, took a deep breath, and before I knew it, I had dozed off.  It didn’t last long.

I woke up to a barrage of sound from the football blaring on the TV in the adjoining room, people talking loudly to be heard over it, and others talking loudly with a phone on “speaker” mode. They could have gone to another room. They could have closed my study doors and left me there in peace. But they didn’t.

That was when this poem erupted from within me.

The imagery of a dragon is not accidental: I wanted to incinerate them them all, or at least toss them around a bit with my tail. Knowing that I couldn’t breathe fire on them all like I wanted to – they are family, after all – I escaped to my bedroom, closed the door, closed the drapes, and promised myself that whoever dared to knock on that door— or, heaven forbid, walk through it— and interrupt me again definitely had it coming. Then, as I generally do, I unloaded my feelings in the most therapeutic way I know: angry poetry.

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It doesn’t tell the complete story. It’s really just a brief glimpse of a scene, but it reveals enough for the reader to understand. And I’m sure every exhausted teacher or parent, every person who is exhausted by constant demands, and every introvert who reads it will totally get it.

Awoken