The Full List of 100 Books to WIN, supporting Townsville and surrounds with funds for flooding relief

Thrillers, romance, suspense, fantasy, contemporary, rural, memoir, historical and kids…. whatever you read, you’re sure to find something in this list, with plenty left over to fill your gift buying needs for a long time to come!

Here it is, the full list of 100 books up for grabs in the giant book raffle, raising much needed funds for flooding relief support for residents of Townsville and beyond. A huge thank you to all the Aussie authors who have donated their books to this cause and another round of applause to everyone who has already bought tickets in this competition. Your ticket money will be going straight to GIVIT, the charity coordinating the distribution of donations. You still have time to buy tickets, with 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes being drawn on Friday 29th March at 9am.

Without further ado… here they are.

Josephine Moon Three Gold Coins + The Gift of Life + The Beekeeper’s Secret +

The Chooclate Promise + The Tea Chest

Monica McInerney The Trip of a Lifetime
Lia Weston Those Pleasant Girls
Rachael Johns Lost Without You
Michelle Johnston Dustfall
Michaela Daphne Purlieu
Rachel Bailey The Finn Factor
Liz Byrski A Month of Sundays
Karen Viggers The Orchardist’s Daughter
Michael Trant Ridgeview Station
Christian White The Nowhere Child
Annie Seaton Diamond Sky
Lisa Ireland The Shape of Us
Anna Campbell A Scoundrel By Moonlight
Wendy J Dunn Falling Pomegranate Seeds
Barbara Hannay The Summer of Secrets
Kirsty Manning The Jade Lily
Darry Fraser The Widow of Ballarat
Tess Woods Love and Other Battles
Anna Daniels Girl In Between
Jane Gillespie Journey to Me
S.D. Wasley Downfall
Fiona Palmer Sisters and Brothers
Vanessa Carnevale The Florentine Bridge + The Memories that Make Us
Christine Wells The Juliet Code
Helene Young Return to Roseglen
Kali Napier The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge
Michelle Endersby Awakening Around Roses
Louise Guy A Life Worth Living
Emily Madden The Lost Pearl
Jodi L Perry Nineteen Letters
Louise Allen The Sister’s Song
Charlotte Nash Saving You + The Paris Wedding + The Horseman
Donna Cameron Beneath the Mother Tree
Kylie Ladd The Way Back
Fiona Lowe Home Fires
Sally Hepworth The Family Next Door + The Mother-in-law
Jay Ludowyke Carpathia
Lauren Charter The Lace Weaver
Nene Davis Whitethorne
Esther Campion The House of Second Chances
Beth Prentice Dangerous Deeds
Phillipa Nefri Clark The Stationmaster’s Cottage
Eliza Henry Jones P is for Pearl + Ache + In The Quiet
Rhonda Forest Two Heartbeats
Lisa Ireland The Shape of Us
Kelly Rimmer The Things We Cannot Say + Before I Let You Go
Pamela Cook The Crossroads
JoanneTracey Happy Ever After
T.M. Clarke Nature of the Lion +

(Child of Africa; and Slowly! Slowly!) (to go together)

Cass Moriarty Parting Words + The Promise Seed
Maggie Christensen A Model Wife
Joanna Nell The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village
Sandie Docker The Cottage at Rosella Cove
Lynne Leonhardt Finding Jasper
Sara Foster The Hidden Hours
Lily Malone Butterfly House: Who Killed the Bride?
Di Morrisey Arcadia
Robyn Cadwallader Book of Colours + The Anchoress
Amanda Hampson Sixty Summers
Jenn J McLeod A Place to Remember
Katherin Johnson Matryoshka
Kristine Charles Love Sabre
Alicia Tuckerman If I Tell You
Torre DeRoche The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World
Terry L Probert Kundela + Voss: The Price of Innocence
John Purcell The Girl on the Page
Judy Nunn Sanctuary
Amanda Curtin Elemental
Cassie Hamer After the Party
Michelle Dalton (via Sarah Williams) Epona
Sarah Williams The Outback Governess
Rashida Murphy The Historian’s Daughter
Stephanie Parkyn Into the World11
Alissa Callen The Round Yard
Kerri Turner The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers
Candice Fox Hades + Gone By Midnight
JP Pomare Call Me Evie
Christopher Raja The Burning Elephant
Kirsten Alexander Half Moon Lake
Catherine Evans, Kim Petersen, Beth Prentice Untamed Destinies
Lea Davey Silworm Secrets + The Shack by the Bay

1st prize: 70 books

2nd prize: 20 books

3rd prize: 10 books

How to Throw a Tuscan Feast This Easter

Last Easter weekend, we decided to treat ourselves to a night we’d always remember: a Tuscan-inspired feast, right in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland. Everything came together to create an evening in which it felt as if a huge magic bubble of wonder and love had descended on our house and infused us all with a lifetime of memories.

The heart of a Tuscan-inspired feast is, of course, family and friends. The joy comes from sharing your home, your beautiful produce and cooking, and most of all your love. So invite as many people as you think your time, energy and budget can handle.

As far as the menu goes, Tuscan-inspired food is rustic ‘peasant’ food. The produce should be so fresh and bursting with flavour that it speaks for itself, rather than having to be fussed over and ‘dressed up’.

From my experience travelling to Tuscany, and my research for my novel, Three Gold Coins, I’ve learned that Italians by nature are incredibly regionally focused and fiercely proud of the food their local area produces. As they should be! What better way to honour a community’s history and culture and look after our planet at the same time?

For our feast, we chose cheese from our local cheesemaker and fresh fruit and vegetables direct from our local farmers. The result was scrumptious!

Here are my top ten tips for throwing a Tuscan-inspired feast.

  1. Keep your menu under control. Although Italians are known for their dining experiences to go on for five (or more!) courses, three great course (antipasto, secondi, and dolce) should do it. Trust me, you’ll still be fit to bursting.
  2. Try to set up your long table outdoors and under trees, if you have great weather. Otherwise, you could do was we did and bring the outdoors in with potted citrus and olive trees and plenty of terracotta pots filled with herbs.
  3. Buy as much of your produce locally as you can—it will have loads more flavour and freshness. Save your food miles for special items, such as prosciutto, which might have actually come all the way from Italy.
  4. Style your space with simple yet elegant finishings, such as wood, branches, leaves and candles, and don’t be afraid to use the food itself as table settings. Fresh honeycomb was a huge hit for us, a gorgeous feature and talking point and it was all gone by the end of the feast.
  5. Consider a separate eating table for the really young children and indulge them with their own special activities and treats. Hire a nanny if you can.
  6. Be flexible with your menu. We decided on tiramisu (naturally) for our dolce (dessert) option, but in the end only four of twenty-three people actually wanted that, instead choosing a far more English option of strawberries and cream!
  7. Flowers and cuttings will make any space feel more welcoming and can give an instant Tuscan feel. Think about the colours of Tuscany—blues, olives, greens, purples, maybe a splash of red. Depending on what’s in season, look for lavender, rosemary, geraniums, olive leaves, roses or perhaps even sunflowers for a big statement. Bunches of herbs of sage, thyme or oregano can look beautiful too.
  8. The right music will add another powerful layer of atmosphere to your feast. Unless you’re lucky enough to have musicians and singers in your family who are happy to serenade you, the easiest thing to do is to create a playlist with your favourite music provider and let it run on random repeat throughout your event.
  9. Remember the red wine, your camera and fairy lights (you can never have enough). Forget checking your phone, clothes with belts or tight waists.
  10. After all is said and done, the biggest thing you can offer to bring this feast to fruition is your love, joy, tenderness, generosity and sense of fun. That’s what will make it a night to remember.

Blossom Water Amaretti: recipe from Three Gold Coins

Like all my books, Three Gold Coins is full of food. One of those foods is the delectable amaretti.

If like me you are gluten free, the amaretti biscuit seems to be heaven sent! It’s also a great one if you’re time poor or not very confident in the kitchen. It’s sweet and chewy, freezes well and is just perfect to accompany coffee and tea.

Here is my recipe for amaretti–so easy, so versatile, so yummy! Enjoy!

Ingredients

4 egg whites

350g caster sugar

300g blanched almond meal

50g almond meal (not blanched) **
(**Note: alternatively, use 350g of blanched almond meal in total.)

30mLs orange blossom water

Method

Preheat your oven to 170 C.

Beat your egg whites with an electric beater until stiff.

Use a silicone spatula to fold in the dry ingredients, as well as the blossom water, until smooth.

Place small dollops of the dough onto two pre-greased and/or lined baking trays, leaving about a centimetre between biscuits.

Place a slivered almond in the centre of each biscuit.

Cook until golden brown, approximately 20 minutes.

Movie Reviews: Ferdinand and Paddington 2

Kids movies are winning at the moment, with Ferdinand and Paddington 2 both delightful films for young viewers.

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Firstly, Ferdinand, the bull who was a lover not a fighter. The beauty of this film is that it speaks to the viewer on so many levels. The fate of the bulls in this Spanish Provence is not unlike that of the gladiators in Ancient Rome–fight or die, and ultimately, you will die anyway–except that it’s still happening today.

As a young bull, Ferdinand watches his father go away to fight and never return. He decides to escape and finds himself in what can only be described as heaven–fields of flowers, a little girl who loves him, a peaceful life. But when he accidentally causes havoc in the town square he is caught and returned to the bull pit where he must save his friends and face the bull fighter. There are difficult themes here–such as humanity’s treatment of animals and even a scene inside an abattoir–but it is handled so sensitively that the younger viewers (such as my five-year-old son) might not directly understand what is happening. (Thankfully, this saved me from having a difficult conversation with him about animal slaughter and meat consumption, which I’m just not yet ready to have.) If you are an animal lover, you will be moved. Everyone will feel hope. A beautiful film. My only small criticism was that it was a tad long through the third quarter (time was filled with singing and dancing) and my son asked to leave. But he stuck it out and was soon rewarded with some fast action to re-engage him. Four stars.

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And then we come to Paddington 2, a charming film that is, in my opinion, better than the first one (and it’s not often you can say that about sequels). I do find Paddington a bit stiff and intellectual for small kids but the physical comedy does seem to counteract it. To my relief, this film isn’t as scary as the first one (which my boy hasn’t managed to sit through at all) and Hugh Grant is just fabulous as the villain Phoenix Buchanan (and Hugh Grant is always fabulous in a villainous role, in my opinion). My son, always short on patience, declared he wanted to leave in the first ten minutes, but I encouraged him to stick it out and was rewarded by him putting two thumbs up at me at the and declaring ‘that was a great movie, Mum’. I’m sure the train chase finale helped.

In this film, Paddington is trying to find the perfect birthday present for his aunty Lucy’s hundredth birthday but his desired pop-up book of London is stolen by Phoenix Buchanan and Paddington is framed for the theft and sent to jail. There are truly delightful moments in jail, especially as Paddington befriends the most feared inmate of all, Knuckles McGinty, played superbly by Brendan Gleeson (of recent film, Hampstead).

Do stay till the end for Hugh Grant’s encore during the credits.

Four stars.

 

 

Movie Review: Captain Underpants

Bright. Loud. Frivalous.

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I went to see this movie for two reasons. Firstly, I have a five-year-old son, who upon hearing the very term, ‘Captain Underpants’, began to laugh and asked to see the movie. Secondly, because I once heard an interview with the creator of the novels, Dav Pilkey, and was so moved by his story that I have longed for the moment my son was old enough to enjoy Pilkey’s creations.

You see, Pilkey was a child with dyslexia and ADHD and was repeatedly sent out of class and into the hallways. The pain he experienced at school gave him a keen sense of connection and service to children and actually began volunteering with school kids straight out school himself–something very unique for an eighteen-year-old. This was a young man who had a mission, I thought. And I think the worldwide phenomenon that is his books, proves that. This is a man who gets kids.

Having said that, I haven’t read any of the Captain Underpants books (as I’m still waiting for my son to get a bit older). My review here is strictly on the movie.

Firstly, my beef with his film is the level of violence contained in it for a G-rated film. I don’t see how animated violence (torching cats, having people hit by cars (repeatedly), or machines that want to shrink your brain and turn you into a zombie) is any different to actual violence. My son climbed into my lap towards the end (the grande finale of violence) and said it was scary. Still, he did want to hang on till the end and that is the first film he has actually sat through till the credits rolled.

I think this movie is pitched at kids slightly older than five. I’m thinking 7-9 years would be a good indication, as some of the humour is mature and there is a fair amount of written text that contains jokes, if only you know how to read.

It’s over the top. It’s meant to be.

But too much violence for me (and my son).

3 stars.

 

 

 

Follow your dreams, before it’s too late

Just today, I was having coffee with a friend of mine and we got onto the topic of just how important it is to do something you love. I mentioned that doing the ‘wrong’ thing, for me, led to chronic fatigue syndrome. And my life changed. Here is a piece I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 urging us all to try to find some space to do exactly what our soul calls us to do, before we’ve lost the chance.

xx

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It’s 6.45 am, our toddler is in the bath and my laptop is perched on a sliver of the kitchen bench because, frankly, it looks like we had an out-of-control party here last night. Meanwhile, the dogs are trotting muddy paws across the floor, and my husband is nuzzling my neck.

If I died right now, I would actually die all over again of shame, knowing that someone would find me in this disaster. But then I’d get over the fact that the cat is eating out of the cereal bowl and there’s the smell of something rotting in the air, and I’d only be sorry I hadn’t got more books out into the world.

Because that is my calling in life: to write. It’s a calling I almost missed while I was busy leading the wrong life in the corporate jungle. But I didn’t truly start to listen to what I had to do until I had chronic fatigue syndrome and couldn’t work any more. Until the eczema spread all over my face and I couldn’t ignore it when I looked in the mirror.

So many women have amazing creative skills and yearn to leave their “day job” in favour of this passion. There’s a sadness that can’t be healed because that passion, that thing they want to do more than anything else, is also the thing that will, ultimately, make them happy.

I used to be one of those women, leaving for work and getting home in the dark, marching in silence with the hundreds of other rats racing through the tunnels on our way to the towers of soul-destroying “real work”, numbing ourselves with earphones in an attempt to ignore the fact that our true selves, our innate creative selves, were dying inside.

Some women love that life and if that’s you, I’m happy for you, truly. But for me, that life nearly destroyed me.

Unlike a virus that knocks you down for a few weeks before you start to recover, chronic fatigue doesn’t just get better. It takes time, lots of time, with an unknown finish date. Time I didn’t have. I had bills. I was a freelancer. I was a single woman. I was stuck in a horrible cycle of knowing that I needed to invest money in myself to get better, but not being able to make money to do that.

I accrued enormous debts, treading water until I could earn more money, believing one day I’d wake up and be better and everything would be fine. Eventually, I had to accept that I might not get better, that this might be as good as it got. And if that was the case then I had to start living the life that brought me joy.

It was like that saying – people work hard all their life to be wealthy, then retire and have to spend their money to save the health they ruined by working hard. Except I was only 29.

I made tough choices and changed lots of habits, not least of which was learning to accept myself rather than striving for (imagined) perfection. I had to learn to lower the bar. Do less. Expect less. Earn less. Work less. And then I had to start doing more of what truly nurtured my body and soul, even if it was by taking just one tiny step at a time.

Western medicine said it couldn’t offer me much, except perhaps for cortisone, which I didn’t feel was right. I couldn’t afford the plethora of complementary medicines being pitched my way. But I had to keep eating, so that was where I started – with food. Organic farmers’ markets became the place where I began to, finally, invest in myself.

None of these changes happened overnight. You can’t steer a ship in the wrong direction for 30 years and then expect it to turn on a dime. It’s an ongoing process.

We’re always waiting for the perfect time. And we bargain with ourselves by saying we’ll just be happy when we’ve paid off the bills, finished that degree, got that promotion, had three kids, got a cleaner, got a new car … whatever. And yet we all know the truth: there is only the now. And you can’t be temporarily unhappy to be happy.

Deep down we know this, yet we find myriad ways to delay our dreams. We think creativity is something separate from life. But it is life, not something you do for an hour on a Saturday afternoon. We’re running ourselves into the ground with pie charts and timetables and life coaches trying to find the work-life balance when there is no such thing. There is only life. And you only have one of those.

I want everyone to have what I have now – a career that fulfils me and financially supports me. One that gives me energy, not takes it away. I know that seems rare. But it doesn’t have to be. You can have that too. I honestly believe that. You just need to start and keep going. Don’t worry about how long it will take you, because you’ll still be the same age whether you do it or not. Don’t wait for the perfect time because that time is here, right now, messy kitchen and all.

Looking for opportunities to donate at Christmas? Here are my favourites.

So, speaking of the Christmas Spirit, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favourite charities in case you are looking for some ideas of where to spread your Christmas cheer too. I donate to these charities every time I get a royalty statement too, so thank you for supporting my books because you in turn support these charities. xx

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Kiva

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To see who’s leading the way of amazing things you can do for the world in my list, head on over to the Kiva site. These are TRULY the gifts that keep on giving. Kiva is a phenomenally life changing micro loan site. That means, your money is a loan to an enterprising individual or group and they pay it back to you in tiny amounts at a time. You can literally change people’s lives with a $25 loan that comes back to you and then… here’s the awesome thing… you can send that same $25 on to someone else! It’s incredible. We can change the world with micro loans. I’ve got tiny loans out to people in Cambodia, Senegal, Phillipines, India, Zambi and Peru. I cannot speak highly enough of this charity.

And if you ever want to feel unbelievably inspired and hopeful for the world, listen to anything Jessica Jackley (co-founder of Kiva) has said. She is one of my heroes in life and I’ll be she’ll quickly be one of yours too.

Australian Koala Foundation

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On a sad note… Koalas, our national emblem, our national disgrace.

Did you know it takes fifty (50!) trees to supply food for ONE koala for ONE year?

We are losing our koala trees through deforestation and land clearing and cannot plant them fast enough to save this much-loved, cuddly species from a wipe out. The AKF is very clear: the only way to save koalas is to legislate protection of their habitat.

As their slogan says: No tree, no me.

Twice a year I donate to AKF to buy trees for their tree planting programs, building up crucial tracts of koala networks to save our friends. If it’s too late for the wild populations, then there is always the hope that zoos will have breeding programs to repopulate our land, and if that happens, the trees that AKF are planting right now (on private land, often donated or bequeathed) will be leading the way in providing food for them.

Freedom Hill Sanctuary

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These are our sponsor cows: ‘Teddy’ is on the top and ‘Christina and Batman’ are on the bottom. Teddy is my husband’s cow and the two on the bottom are mine. Cute, aren’t they? We have a real thing for cows. (Actually, we have a real thing for everything, hence why we founded and ran a horse rescue charity for three years and now have a paddock full of horses.) This year, hubby wants to add on a pig. Getting a real live pig is the one thing I have resolutely said we can not under any circumstances get!! I love pigs, don’t get me wrong, and haven’t eaten one for twenty odd years. But everything I’ve read about pigs leads me to expect broken fences, endless ear-splitting squealing and earth destruction! I just don’t think I can cope. So anyway, that’s why sponsoring your favourite animals is a great alternative, and hence why this time next year I’ll probably be showing you a photo of ‘our pig’. 🙂

Book Drive

You’ll likely find a children’s book drive going on somewhere near you. For us, it’s run through our library system in Books 4 Kids here on the Sunshine Coast. Because kids and books just go together, don’t they? And no child should have to be without books, especially at Christmas.

 Oxfam

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“One person in three in the world lives in poverty.”

Wow, right? How lucky we are.

Oxfam’s slogan is: The power of people against poverty. They help people all around the world, including here in Australia, through industry, agriculture and businesses that provide ongoing employment, education and food resources.

And fortunately for all of us, they supply us with great Christmas decorations and gifts for everyone. We do a lot of shopping with Oxfam at this time of year. 🙂

 

So there you go! Please, go forth and be merry! xxx