Book Review

Book Review: Not a Fairy Tale – Romy Sommer

Set in Los Angeles, Hollywood starlet, Nina Alexander is beside herself for losing the Oscar for a supporting role. Thinking it couldn’t get worse, she receives an unexpected proposal on the same stage. Not wanting to commit to someone she doesn’t love, she turns it down, thus attracting further media attention.

Dominic Kelly, a gorgeous stuntman and womaniser comes to her rescue. Nina’s always found him attractive, yet strangely he’s never shown an interest in her. They spend the night at his place to lose the paparazzi and Nina gains a glimpse into his life.

Nina loves fame, fortune, even the isolated life she leads. Her past has hardened her and she’s worked hard to reinvent herself as the actress she envisioned. She comes up with a plan to redeem her image by going after a coveted role. To do this she’d need to transform into an action heroine and asks Dominic to train her.

Dominic doesn’t exactly jump at the offer. He has reasons to decline, one of them being the fear of losing his heart to Nina. She was unlike the women he bedded and didn’t want to complicate things. Through his better judgement he agrees to her request and is unable to resist her charms.

Romy Sommer is a talented romance Author. The story is captivating, her characters are believable, the sex steamy and the ever-after beyond satisfying.

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A novel idea…

I’m in the process of writing my first romance novel. A way of staying in touch with my followers is to take you along with me as I share the highs and lows of fiction writing.

Many don’t appreciate the intricacies involved in writing a novel, short story or even a poem. Considerable time and effort goes into finding perfect words for a poem. A short story is fast moving generally with a beginning, middle and end (or a twist in the tale). Writing a novel is a labour of love taking months (even years) with a vision only the Author harbours (without a guarantee of it becoming a success or not).

Truth be told, writing is hard work! It requires belief, determination and a never give up attitude. Starting and finishing a story takes immense courage. Having stories critiqued is torturous. I learnt this the hard way when I received harsh reviews whilst fighting back tears. It made me question whether I was good enough and if I’d make it as a writer. At that stage I was very sensitive. My stories were my darlings and I couldn’t separate myself from them. It took a long time to accept that not everything I write is going to be ground-breaking. Every failure strengthened my resolve to work harder, learn from mistakes and KEEP writing.

For years I didn’t feel ready to write a novel as I didn’t have sufficient experience in fiction writing. I gave myself small attainable goals like writing short stories, learning the ropes, whilst building confidence. I surrounded myself with experienced writers, absorbing as much as I could from them. I’m not ambitious. I write because it makes me happy. The pay back is when readers appreciate my work, making it worth while.

This is my maiden journey in writing a novel. I have nothing to compare it to nor can I say that I’ll succeed in making it a reality. All I have is a strong belief that the time is right to do this.

I’m a planner when it comes to writing. I like to have a map of where my stories go. But this can spell trouble as too much preparation can block creativity. I saw this in some of my stories where I couldn’t identify with my characters as I was holding the strings too tightly. Characters need to be set free to find their own destiny and letting go wasn’t easy as I wanted to run the show.

The first step in writing a novel is coming up with an idea. Generally music is my go-to when I’m in need of inspiration. I listen to songs and like to come up with stories based on the emotions they evoke. And with so many songs available I could write countless novels… yet I couldn’t find something compelling enough to get lost in.

I was having anxiety that I may never find the right idea and was wasting precious time pursuing dead ends. The more I stressed, the more frustrated I became. I have a close relationship with God and live a spiritual life. I called on Him countless times, praying that I’d find an idea soon. I knew that if I left it in His hands something would come, maybe not as quick as I wished but in time it would.

And it did. Actually God has been sending me messages for a while now, steering me in a direction that confused me as I never considered anything like it before. After too many coincidences it finally dawned on me that the idea for my story was becoming stronger and what seemed impossible before could very much become a reality.

I finally accepted the idea and it felt so right in my soul. God listened to my prayers, heard my frustrations, soothed my doubts and tried to comfort me. He wants me to succeed, wants only the best for me and helps me in every way. You see, I’m not venturing into the unknown alone, my best friend has joined me on a journey that’s going to alter my future 🙂

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Feature in Runner’s World…

I started running in 2010. It was my go-to when I decided to abstain from alcohol, seeking a healthy lifestyle. I’d never done any form of exercise before, so breaking into the sport wasn’t something that happened overnight.

Being overweight and unfit didn’t help either. I recall how tough it was to run for a minute. It felt like my chest was going to burst and I’d faint from exertion. But I didn’t give up. Before long I was able to run for three minutes and walk breaks became shorter. Soon I was able to tackle a 5km, much to my delight. That’s when I joined a running club and started taking it seriously.

In conjunction with a healthy eating plan, the weight melted. I entered races, loved the thrill of competing and became smitten with running. It taught me discipline, perseverance and setting goals I could conquer. In return I appreciated my body, challenged myself to push past mental limits and felt blessed to run in a beautiful City.

I wrote a piece on why I love running in 2015. It was published in Runner’s World and Modern Athlete. This was a huge accomplishment for me, gaining exposure not only for running but intertwining my passion for writing.

Although I was riding the wave in running, I was plagued with many injuries. I was training for my first marathon in 2015 when I fell prey to plantar fasciitis, crushing my goal. I soon underwent a double bunionectomy that saw me side-lined from running for the next six months. This was torturous as I’d become dependent on it and couldn’t find anything to take its place. The only thing that kept me going was the hope of returning healthier and stronger to the sport I adored.

And I did. Taking time off makes one appreciate running even more. It didn’t matter that I had to start from scratch and gain fitness back. My muscles remembered how much it loved the road, my mind opened to new goals and I never stopped believing I’d conquer the next big race.

Sadly the injuries didn’t abate. The more I trained, especially on hills, my knees cried. I was soon diagnosed with osteoarthritis, a degeneration of cartilage in my joints . It broke my heart for I knew I’d never be able to run the way I used to and accepting this wasn’t easy.

In February, I underwent bilateral knee arthroscopy to clean out the knees and inject good blood cells, aiding the healing process. My recovery was painfully slow and once again I was forced out of running for two months. This time I questioned whether I’d be able to run again, whether it was time to call it quits on a sport that means everything to me.

Then in March I got a message from Lisa Abdellah, Deputy Editor of Runner’s World asking whether I was interested in featuring in the Run it Off story. I was gobsmacked – why was I given this opportunity when I was on the verge of stopping. It was as if the universe was saying running wasn’t ready to let me go.

My journey has taught me not to have expectations where running is concerned. Not to compare myself to others, to always listen to my body and afford it time to heal. The joy of running isn’t how far I run or how many races I do. It’s being grateful for the body I have, for the time I spend on the road and the glory running evokes in my soul.

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Runner’s World feature 🙂

Writing Romance…

I adore romance. My adolescent years saw me curled up reading Mills and Boons. I swooned over the hero, the beauty that steals his heart, hated the obstacles in their way, longed to hear their confessions of love and felt sated when they lived happily ever after.

Of course I wasn’t surprised when I found myself drawn to writing fiction and in particular, romance where love is the order of the day. Yet it’s been a long and winding road getting here.

Writing is ingrained in me. It’s a medium I turn to when I can’t make sense of the emotional baggage life throws my way. It was my outlet when I loathed myself during my drinking days. It comforted me during recovery in sobriety. Today it’s helping me reach my dream one day at a time.

I’ve written countless short stories. I’m my biggest critic when it comes to sending work out for scrutiny, living in doubt of not being good enough. It takes courage to believe in your writing, to write everyday despite not everybody appreciating your work. I’ve finally come to a place where it’s okay if people don’t like what I write. What matters are the ones who do.

There’s so much to learn about writing that one gets caught in an abyss of information. I joined a Writing Circle a few years ago where I was challenged to write poems and fairy tales. I had no idea I could do this, yet I persevered and succeeded. It’s rewarding realising the untapped potential one has when stretched. But one can’t really be a pro juggling too many things at the same time.

Therefore I’ve dedicated this year to focusing on one objective. To write a romance novel. I’ve been to a Romance Writing Workshop in February where insight was given into the various imprints on offer. I had no idea of the vastness of the genre or the millions of dedicated readers waiting for fresh stories. I got a 101 on writing romance and set a deadline to get my first draft done.

I’m also part of the Romance Writers Chapter in Cape Town, a group of Authors living their dream writing romances. I actively participate in a small group of writers who task one another to produce stories. This year our aim is to write our novels simultaneously and to support each other during the process.

As much as I’m afraid of the unknown, of doubt setting in, of failing. I need to remind myself how far I’ve come already. This is my calling, it’s what I’ve been gearing for all my life and the time is now.

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Book Review

Book Review: The Pursuit of Happiness – Douglas Kennedy

This novel is 648 pages long. It took me back to the tomes of yesteryear, the kind that kept one spellbound from cover to cover with intrigue and drama.

Douglas Kennedy writes in first person. He tracks the journey of two women, Kate Malone and Sara Smythe. The saga commences at the funeral of Kate’s mother and the spotting of Sara for the first time. Coming to terms with a major loss, Kate is contacted by Sara begging to see her. Not understanding why a total stranger would want to meet at this juncture, she affords her a hearing only to have her world uprooted a second time. Sara claims to be her father’s lover. A father Kate barely knew having passed on when she was only a few months old.

The story shifts to Sara and how she meets Jack Malone at a party in her brother, Eric’s apartment in Manhattan, 1945. One glance was all it took to bring the pair together. They chatted and ended up making love before having to rush Jack back to the ship that would take him out to sea for the next nine months. Though this behaviour was out of character for Sara, she knew Jack was the one. He promised to write everyday as he kissed her deeply and set sail.

Jack lied. Sara wrote countless letters; she waited, hoping he’d return. He sent her a postcard many months later with the words, “I’m sorry”. Sara was crushed. It took forever to forget Jack and only through Eric’s aid was she was able to find herself again. The relationship the siblings shared was unbreakable. Both were up and coming writers reaching success before long. Eric for a short stint was involved in communist party activities which he regretted and distanced from. However, this association leads to his downfall.

Three years later, destiny draws Jack and Sara together again. Only this time Jack is married with a young son who was the reason why he didn’t pursue a relationship with Sara. Now he wants her back and refuses to take no for an answer. Sara eventually relents and they come to an arrangement that allows Jack to remain in his marriage while maintaining one with her. Their affair, for a brief period was everything Sara had hoped for. Once again, Jack lets Sara down, this time betraying her in the worst possible way. Tragedy strikes over and over, Sara caught in the midst, unable to forgive and forget.

Douglas Kennedy is a phenomenal writer. He captures every scene to the minute detail. The capacity to write from a women’s perspective and doing it so convincingly is impressive. There were paragraphs of truth that stood out throughout the book that had to be savoured more than once. Sara’s characterization was impeccable, I felt her heartbreak, suffering and never-ending grief. I laughed, cried, then cried some more until sadness overwhelmed me realising I’d come to the end of her story and there wasn’t any more.

This novel tops my best reads list. A well-deserved five star rating!

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“Which is perhaps one of the great reasons why love always disappoints. We enter it hoping it will make us whole – that it will shore up our foundations, end our sense of incompleteness, give us the stability we crave. Then we discover that, on the contrary it is a deeply exposing experience. Because it is so charged with ambivalence. We seek certaintly in another person. We discover doubt – both in the object of our affections and in ourselves.

So perhaps the trick is to recognize the fundamental ambivalence lurking behind every form of human endeavour. Because once you recognise that – once you grasp the flawed nature of everything – you can move forward without disappointment.”

Trusting Intuition…

Much has happened in the past two months. Last year I was diagnosed with early signs of osteoarthritis in my knees. As a runner, it spelt disaster. It wasn’t easy to accept I may never be able to run the way I used to. With that came a host of emotions I couldn’t deal with.

When I was ready to slip my running shoes on again, I found I couldn’t run more than two times a week. My knees were sore and I was forced to take time off to rest. I’d also decided to change my running club. This wasn’t an easy decision to make as it’s where I took running seriously and turned it into a success. Yet the time felt right to move on, to shut the door on the past and look to the future.

Little did I know that further setbacks were waiting when I decided to join another club. I made an appointment to see an Orthopaedic Surgeon said to be the “bee’s knees”. Upon studying the MRI scans, he confirmed that although they looked bad, he could “fix” them. This meant performing arthroscopy on both knees to clean the fragmented cartilage and inject vials of ACP, my own healthy blood to boost the healing process. He said it was a minor procedure and I’d be out of work for two days and be back to normal again.

I didn’t like undergoing another procedure and didn’t have a good feeling about it. However, it seemed like a quick fix, exactly what my knees needed to get back to running. I didn’t take time to think it through, instead setting a date for the first week in February. I had a jam packed month with Neil’s birthday, two Romance Writing Workshops and a busy period at work.

As the date drew closer, I started to panick. The procedure entailed going under anaesthetic. I loathed it’s side effects of nausea and weakness. When I informed people within my circle of the pending op, I didn’t hear positive stories. Yet I’d already committed to the date and felt I couldn’t back out. I told myself it was normal to feel jittery about an op, that other’s experiences wouldn’t be mine. I’d be fine and before long, would be running again.

On the morning of the op, Neil and I rushed to the hospital to check in. We were taken by surprise when the hospital informed we needed to pay in a hefty amount that the medical aid wouldn’t cover. I was taken aback. I’d never had to do this before. I lost my cool and said, “What happens if I die on the operating table, would we still be responsible for the bill?” Neil calmed me down and said not to stress, that he’d pay and everything would be fine.

But I wasn’t alright. I was angry and scared. All I had was Neil assuring he’d stay by my side and be waiting when it was done. He walked alongside me as they wheeled me into theatre, saying how much he loved me. The anaesthetist was waiting to insert a needle in my vein and before long I was out. I came to when I was brought back to the ward and found Neil waiting as promised.

I drifted in and out of sleep. Nausea was setting in and I battled to have something to eat before I was discharged. My knees were tightly wrapped in bandages and I couldn’t feel a thing. The Surgeon came by to say the op was a success. I enquired whether I needed crutches to walk or had to see the physio before I left. He said not at all, I’d be able to move around when I got home and further treatment wasn’t necessary.

Neil helped me to dress, put me in a wheelchair and took me home. When I got home I jumped straight into bed to sleep off the rest of the anaesthetic. Awaking the next morning to go to the loo, I couldn’t get down the two stairs leading to the bathroom. My right knee was locked, it felt like the patella was raw and every movement I made was punctuated with pain. I sensed something was wrong. This wasn’t merely the aftereffects of surgery and anaesthetic, this was serious.

I tried to contact the Surgeon’s office but since it was a Friday afternoon, no one was answering. I was in a state, sobbing thinking the worst. Neil tried to allay my fears saying the pain would settle and I needed to give it time. I wasn’t buying it. I removed the bandages as they were suffocating me. I was shocked to see how swollen my knees were. The right even more so. The wounds were covered with transparent plasters. They were caked in dry blood and were a hideous sight.

Even though the surgeon didn’t tell me to ice my knees or elevate them, I did so religiously. I knew what was needed to get the swelling down. I couldn’t sleep comfortably for every movement brought on a fresh shot of pain in the knees. I was living on pain meds, numbing myself.

By Sunday evening, it was clear there was no way I’d be okay to return to work. I could barely get around, let alone drive. I informed my Boss that something was terribly wrong and I needed to see the Surgeon. I called the Surgeon the next morning and relayed my symptoms. He didn’t seem taken aback by my condition, saying I needed rest, to keep icing the knees and see him on Wednesday. I was livid. Here I was, in agony, unable to get around, not recovering the way he said I would and he didn’t care.

When Wednesday rolled around, my condition hadn’t improved. Neil took me to the hospital and we walked to the Doctor’s room at a snail’s pace. Sitting before the Surgeon, I spoke my mind. I asked whether he’d worked more on the right knee as it couldn’t bend. He said yes, as it had more damage. I questioned why he omitted to mention this and also why he hadn’t said that it would take longer to recover. He said in most cases patients heal quickly. Then there was the 10% who took longer. Obviously I fell into that bracket. I said he should have alerted me to this, that I shouldn’t have been given false hope I’d be fine. He apologised and seemed to take me serious thereafter. He said I should see a physio and cycle as soon as possible to strengthen the knees. I looked at him dumbfounded… now I had to fork out more money to see a physio to fix my knees due to his doing. And how was I going to cycle when I could barely walk!

To say I was disappointed in the procedure and the Surgeon would be an understatement. I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s been a long and frustrating road to recovery. I was booked off for the rest of the week recover. During this time my anxiety spiralled. I didn’t have faith in physio’s either, yet I had no choice but to find one desperately. Through sheer luck I found a physio who answered all my questions on the phone and seemed to know her thing. I immediately set up an appointment with Wendy Snyers. After a brief examination she picked up that the patella on the right knee had run off track. The muscles along the entire leg had stiffened thus not allowing any movement. She said I was probably weak on my right side heading into the op and since the main aim was to fix the knees, my muscles caved in. She had to release the fascia throughout the leg. This was done by pressing deep into the muscles, emitting a pain that was unbearable. The result was I could bend my knee and had some movement. For the first time since the op, I had hope that I’d turned the corner and would heal.

But it wasn’t a quick recovery. I had to see her four more times for my knee to gain full mobility. Walking around was an effort as I’d become slow. I had to go to gym three times a week to cycle. I found the more I cycled, the patella stayed on track and the muscles surrounding the knees grew stronger. I had to learn to climb stairs again. I’d lost count of the many times I cried out of pure frustration.

I took so much for granted when I was healthy and fit. I thought I was invincible and my body would remain this way. It’s only when one has an op or gets older, does it sink in how precious the human body is. It carries one through the storms of life and demands protection and care.

From this dilemma I learnt to trust my instincts. They are like whisperings of unease bubbling around. They shouldn’t be underestimated for they hold power and speak truth. When I ignore them, terrible things transpire. I’m trying to be more receptive to them, to listen carefully, not to make hasty decisions, affording myself the gift of time and patience to figure it out.

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Two years Dad…

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Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair that time has erased your presence from my mind. When days go by and I didn’t stop to think of you. Memories that seem so distant, moving into a space that’s hard to reach.

I have a playlist of songs that holds special meaning to me. A few belong to you. They are impossible to sing for every line is laced with emotion. So what if I cry in traffic, for a brief moment the world has stopped turning and I’m with you again, remembering your goodness, wishing for another chance to say I love you.

They say time heals all wounds, I think it makes it easier to forget how much it still hurts.

“And I can’t breathe without you, but I have to” 😦

Happy Birthday Sweetheart …

A week ago I had a medical procedure on my knees. I was pensive heading into surgery, unsure of the outcome, fearful of the effects of anaesthetic, battling to stay positive. Normally I turn to my faith in times of despair, but at that time I relied heavily on you to get me through.

True to your nature, you never let me down. You were there to wipe tears, reassured that it would be okay and you’d be waiting when it was all done. You walked beside me as they wheeled me into theatre, kissed me tenderly and whispered you loved me so so much.

I don’t recall much of what happened next, falling into an induced slumber. Coming to, I was wheeled to my room and caught a glimpse of your smiling face, asking how I was feeling. You sat with me through my mumblings of how very tired and nauseous I felt. You held my hand, spoke of things weighing on your mind, as I drifted in and out of sleep.

Later when I was discharged, you helped to dress me, carried the bag, walking beside the wheelchair, ran to find the car, ushered me in, escorting me safely home and into bed. Rushing to the chemist to fill out the prescription, ensuring I had something to eat before the meds, making certain I was comfortable.

Its times like these that I am eternally grateful to have someone like you share this journey called life. Because it’s not all about the joys that come our way, but the challenging times and the uncertainty of the unknown; that one clings to love and family to carry you through.

And you, my dearest make this world a better place to live in. Cementing the belief that there are still kind-hearted souls whose greatest desire is to see others happy. Epitomising what a role-model should be to our daughters, to mirror you and search these qualities in others. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband and partner to share forever with.

On this precious day we celebrate you and everything you are, the sacrifices you make, the time and effort you unselfishly bestow, your unconditional love, the sweetness of your soul and the vast difference you make in our lives.

Have a blessed birthday Sweetheart. We love you always and forever ❤

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Happy Birthday Handsome ❤

Book Review

Book Review: Grayson’s Vow – Mia Sheridan

This is the second book I’ve read by Romance Author, Mia Sheridan. As much as I’m acquainted with her writing style, I had no idea she’d enchant me again.

I read this book in a weekend! And it speaks volumes to the pulling power she has over readers. Especially when one salivates on romance as much I do and it racks up as one of the best reads, ever!

The setting is Napa Valley, land of vineyards, mountain ranges and timeless living. Kira Dallaire has returned from a sojourn in Africa to heal her soul from a scandal instigated by her father, Mayor Dallaire and an ex-fiancé, Cooper Stratton. Refusing their money, Kira concocts a plan to access funds bequeathed by her Gran on condition of marriage. A chance encounter with Grayson Hawthorn who is bordering financial ruin in a winery, fits the bill for a marriage of convenience.

Kira Dallaire is a vivacious, lovable character. Although raised in wealth, she refused to be sucked into a world of power and greed, instead fighting for the underdogs. Despite the strife those close unveiled upon her, she refused to be embittered, steadfast in the belief that love conquers pain. Grayson Hawthorn had been wronged all his life, never afforded love or worth by his parents. Even the prized winery bestowed by his father with a vow to keep it thriving was set to sabotage his efforts.

From the outset, the relationship between Kira and Grayson was a business arrangement. But living in close quarters, they discover annoyances to dislike and an inescapable magnetism. Rushing into a fake wedding, the prospect of living as a married couple becomes real and enticing.

Mia Sheridan is an extraordinaire! She weaves spell-binding tales. Characters to adore or throttle when they can’t get it together. Endless twists and turns to keep flicking pages at a rapid speed. Mostly, a Mia Sheridan novel is a lesson in love and hope intertwining in a symphony of words.

A must-read five star rating!

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Book Review

Zebra Crossing – Meg Vandermerwe

I have the pleasure of sitting around Meg Vandermerwe’s table once a month learning the art of creative writing. A lecturer at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The Editor of New Contrast Magazine devoted to the publishing of original stories by South African writers. Her first published work was a collection of short stories “This place I call home”.

Zebra Crossing isn’t a lengthy novel, yet I meandered through it. I wanted to savour every word, every beautiful detail of a remarkable tale. Meg’s writing is unlike anything I’ve encountered. Sentences that stop you in your tracks, taking a moment to reflect on its sheer magnificence. Characters that creep into your heart with every flick of the page. It’s authentic and lyrical style lingers as it hurtles to a close with one wishing it could have turned out differently.

Chipo is a seventeen year old albino, raised in Zimbabwe. She knows only ridicule and shame from many who perceive her to be superstitious, unnatural and an eye sore. Holding on to memories of unconditional love from a mother who passed too soon, she is left in the hands of a brother, George. They flee Zimbabwe, illegally crossing the border in search of a bright future.

The year is 2010, the World Cup has arrived on South African soil and xenophobia is rising. The pair settle in Cape Town with two brothers, David and Peter, fellow Zimbabweans. Chipo maintains her keep by taking care of household chores and assisting Jean-Paul, a dressmaker. David is the beholder of Chipo’s heart. Ignorant to this, he follows his own destiny and love interest. In a desperate plea to win the man of her dreams, Chipo’s path crosses that of Dr Ongani, a self-professed healer of bad fortune. Placing belief in him leads to disastrous consequences not only for herself, but the entire household.

Meg Vandermerwe has encouraged through her teaching to read out of one’s comfort zone and now I know why. South Africa has many talented storytellers who sadly don’t receive the support and appreciation they deserve. The knowledge they possess living in a country as diverse as ours, cultures intertwined, shining the spotlight on hidden struggles, makes for explosive reading.

I have only the highest praise for this book and the Author. I urge you to give it a try. A five star rating.

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