Things that shit me… #20

OMG, this is the worst one yet.

Get ready, hold your horses…

Things that shit me…

Cafes that stop making coffee, WAY before their closing time.

This one is WAY serious, more so because we are still in lockdown.

We have a local cafe that we go to, and we love it because all we need to do is walk there. There is a park nearby as well, and if you go a tiny bit further, you can even see the water.

But ever since lockdowns began last year, their trading hours have permanently changed to the closing time of 2pm.

That is such a sad thing for us, because we have our afternoon coffee at 3pm. Sigh. 😒

Anyway. The other day we noticed the signs out the front from the new kids on the block. Not even a year old, there’s a new cafe, just doors down from our dependable one. Its sign says, it closes at 3pm.

GREAT!

We headed on down the other weekend, all 3 of us, to grab an arvo coffee and try out these new guys.

We would give them a shot.

The whole time, Hubbie was like, “let’s get there quick, they’re gonna close soon.”

We were minutes away at 2:30pm. “No way!” I said.

We walked in literally at 2:33pm.

It was open! There were cakes and really delicious pastries and pies. We got excited ordering, and then another woman came over to the coffee machine right up behind the front counter, and removed the tray from it.

Hubbie was immediate. “Oh, are you not making coffees anymore?”

Their faces told us EVERYTHING.

But we had just chosen sweet things. There was silence. The coffee machine woman paused. Then after what seemed like an eternity of nobody saying anything, she said with extreme reluctance.

“Ok. I’ll make the coffees.”

WHAT THE ACTUAL F$#K????

It was probably 2:35pm at that stage. A full 25 minutes before closing time. The lady who had been getting our treats tried to smooth things over, saying “oh, we’ve had a quiet afternoon which is why we cleaned up earlier…”

Yeah, sure lady, then change your sign if you wanna do that. Don’t advertise ‘closing time at 3pm.’

Instead try a sign that says ‘closing and cleaning the coffee machine whenever the hell we feel like it.’

I tell you, the anger was rife and growing the more time wore on. That day. The next day. Throughout the week. Every time I thought of that coffee lady’s face as she begrudgingly decided to grant us some caffeine and provide us the opportunity to give them a chance, I just wanted to scream.

We will not be going back.

You know this happens a lot. So many times, if a cafe is closing, they will make it their mission to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible if you decide to order a coffee (takeaway remember!) in their last 30 minutes of operating time.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened to us. In fact, it is so common, that when we ordered coffee at The Butchers Daughter Cafe in Mornington within the last 15 minutes of their day, the girl there told us so surprisingly:

“We are closing soon so don’t mind the tables and chairs, but please take your time and enjoy the coffee.”

OMG, what? Massive points earned, MASSIVE!

I recently came across a social media post displaying another cafe’s opening hours during lockdown. Have a look:

Note, coffee off at 1:55. 5 minutes before closing time! What a realistic time to stop making coffees! I don’t expect them to take my order at closing time, hell no… but 25 minutes earlier?

HELL YES!

A coffee does not take long to make as these guys know, yet begrudged face lady can’t put on a smile long enough to make an impression on new customers!

Tsk tsk tsk. I am so angry, woof, I could name and shame SO easily.

But I won’t. Instead if you DM me, I’ll tell you that way. 😉

Mornington Peninsula cafes, you have been warned!

A photo of a coffee that wasn’t made begrudgingly

50 Shades of Everything

EL JAMES – Fifty Shades Darker

“… I don’t know if it’s the momentary distraction of his perfect looks or the knowledge that he loves me, but his threat no longer fills me with dread. This is my Fifty Shades; this is the way he is.”

I must start by saying, I never intended on writing a review on the Fifty Shades series. I was only going to devote my time to serious and literary pursuits, honourable mentions and worthy endeavours…

I had read the first book in the series, Fifty Shades of Grey, some years back… yes, it was addictive reading. And with the latest movie version hitting the big screens, I got that familiar itch again…

That Christian Grey itch.

Ok so I am messing with you. But what I want to explore here in my review of the ‘middle’ book, the second in the Grey series, is… what makes it such a world-wide success, a phenomenon with women from all corners of the earth? Why is it such a page-turner? How does it have the female sex swooning and wishing for their own Christian Grey lover? And simultaneously, why do so many people slam the book, calling it filth and rubbish, a poorly written novel, as well as all other manner of negative things?

“He breaks off the kiss, panting. His eyes are luminous with desire, firing the already heated blood that is pounding through my body. My mouth is slack as I try to drag precious air into my lungs.

‘You. Are. Mine,’ he snarls, emphasizing each word. He pushes away from me and bends, hands on his knees as if he’s run a marathon. ‘For the love of God, Ana.’”

And so there it is, page 27 into the book, and already we have a passionate and sexually-charged scene.

And they come a plenty. Them, and the scenes (ok I will stop now).

So, why does Fifty Shades work so well? It taps into the forbidden and hidden female fantasy AND insecurity, that an amazingly wealthy, sexy, enigmatic, striking and passionate man will fall in love with old average us, and want to give it to us every day in ALL MANNER OF WAYS.

It is formulaic in its approach. It works, so why not go there?

Step 1: Create the perfect man. Make him rich, unbelievably so, and so powerful as to be able to make things happen at the drop of a hat – tell his right-side man to get it done, or pick up the phone and !bing! things happen.

(Make him fierce, fit, healthy, and competent, to the point where he can fly a small aircraft, navigate a boat, know how to hang-glide – basically a superbly accomplished man in ALL endeavours).

Step 2: And this incredibly gifted, sexy and superior man, is WILD… for YOU.

You. The average girl, the every day woman, who captures the attentions of this fantastical man… and suddenly he cannot live without you. He must have YOU at all costs, despite your differing backgrounds and lifestyles.

He can’t get enough of you. Something about you, sends him, insane. It’s hot, it’s fiery, it’s wild…

…And then you find out he has a sexual fetish, diplomatically speaking. This fetish is actually not just a fetish, but a way of life for him, and it is BDSM – and we are talking bondage, whips, dominant and submissive relationships, contracts, and sadomasochistic sexual activities.

That’s a lot to take on for a virgin.

But she wants him, and he is insatiated by her… sound familiar?

Well, that’s because it is. The Fifty Shades series started out as Twilight fan fiction. EL James felt unsatisfied with Edward and Bella’s lack of intimate portrayal in the Twilight series, especially as it was so much a focal point and intensity-building structure of much of the books, that she created her own universe where the similar lead characters got it on… A LOT.

Dark and Brooding? Edward and Christian.

Shy and insecure, unable to see their own beauty? Bella and Ana. What do you know, both girls names even sound the same.

The impressive and perfect man with a dark past, and the innocent, average girl-next-door type, who gets swept up in it all and hypnotised by the arrival of a mysterious man, falling hopelessly in love with him and trying to make him a better man, is a well-done formula. It works, because it feeds on fantasy and insecurity. Fantasy in the perfect male archetype, one that feeds both the physical and sexual fantasy, and insecurity in that it taps into that inner voice within us that identifies with not feeling good enough, not feeling pretty enough, not feeling, ENOUGH.

“Do you have any idea how exquisite your scent is, Ana? It’s irresistible.”

In Twilight it was Edward being a 100 year-old vampire who drank the blood of animals, yet went insane when he was near Bella. In the Fifty Shades series, it is a sex-maniacal BDSM player who gains pleasure from inflicting pain on his submissives. And of course, she is a virgin at the onset, who happens to experience her first mind-blowing orgasm with him, so of course she will hang around. She doesn’t know any better, does she?

And there my friends, we have PLOT. That is the crunch, STEP 3.

Christian’s fetish, can hurt Ana. And that is where the fine balance between pleasure and fear, implemented by author, comes in. As readers, we have to want Christian, not fear him… but for the sake of mystery and the unknown and danger, a little fear is also necessary for the excitement factor.

Insert – a dark past. He was abused as a child and so this is why he does what he does. Even though in the first book he makes a contract with Ana about the BDSM rules of their relationship, the dos and don’ts and hard limits, his image is made softer to us in other ways: although domineering and bossy, he is concerned about Ana’s diet, constantly ensuring she eats. He organises birth control precautions and makes her take the pill so as not to fall pregnant. He tells her “Dry your hair… I don’t want you sick,” after she comes out of the shower. It’s not a request though. He holds the door open for her, and instructs her where and when they will eat. He takes charge, in many ways, and although frustrating for our leading lady, it’s a part of him she has to learn to adjust and mould to, just as every new romantic partnership is a testing and experimental stage. Christian even instructs his security hang out at her workplace, as well as take her to and from work, when there is a perceived threat against them.

He is a protector, supremely concerned about her welfare and well-being, and herein lies another fantasy – man as archetypal guardian. The bodyguard to shield you from the nasties of the world and keep you safe from danger. A prince charming, as it were.

A sadomasochistic one, but same same for our Ana.

And if that were not enough, and the BDSM is just too intense to handle, rest-assured this multi-millionaire CEO did not get to the top by swindling money and thinking only of the top dollar – though he admits to Ana at one point that he makes roughly one hundred thousand dollars AN HOUR – his work also involves him in charitable endeavours where he is passionate about educating and bringing much needed help and assistance to those less fortunate, with him not profiting from it in the slightest.

It has bad boy written all over it. The good girl turns the bad boy, well, good, or at least tries to, but we all know a good portion of bad boy remains inside. Isn’t that what excites us? The challenge, followed by the knowledge that we have succeeded in holding most of him down. The important bits anyway…

As readers we all feel as if we are that ordinary girl because at some stage we have ALL felt that way looking at someone – whether it was that hot guy at school, the boy next-door, your older brother’s spunky friend, or that office colleague you keep grinning bashfully at, we have all felt inadequate and quite ordinary in comparison to the object of our affections.

Ana and Christian both are insecure in themselves, and it is this setback that has them going to and fro throughout the book. In Fifty Shades Darker, the contract is gone. Christian has discovered there is no way he can live without Ana, and following on her walking out on him in the ‘playroom’ at the end of the first book, he discovered there is one thing more important to him than inflicting pain… and that is, Ana.

Does the sexual role-play border on violence? In the first book Christian does enjoy inflicting pain upon her, and we still swoon because she is the first who is making him feel more than just that sensation down below… he is feeling something in his chest, and no matter how hard he tries he can’t deny it. It is a very open and clear-cut contract, where the rules and limitations are listed early on. Ana is a willing participant, as were the other submissives before her, so… No. Yes, it is extreme, yes it is a niche activity, but as long as the two parties are in agreeance and willing, there isn’t an issue.

So becomes the challenge of this book. Ana worries she and her vanilla ways are not enough for Christian, whereas he says she is enough, and worries that he is unlovable, a ‘husk of a man.’ He has his own issues which led him to the sordid life he’s on, and together they face off, arguing, bouncing back against one another, coming together again, thrown apart by issues from his past, and then merging again as one.

THE ANNOYING.

It became frustrating reading about Ana’s insecurities in relation to Christian, as despite all of his assurances he wanted her and didn’t care for anything or anyone from his past, her uncertain thoughts still led her astray, to doubt, to constantly question, and she appeared to be shocked and baffled anytime he said he wanted her or loved her.

“’We leave. I believe you have certain expectations, Miss Steele. Which I intend to fulfil to the best of my ability.’”

‘The best … of your a… bil… ity?’ I stutter. Holy shit.

He grins and stands.”

Ana, he has been doing you every which way since the onset, don’t be surprised by that. Geez.

Her naivety means she is constantly surprised by everything. His bank account. How much he earns. The formal thousand-dollar dresses he fills her wardrobe with. She opens her own account and finds tens of thousands of dollars in there, and the ability he has to tap into emails and see what is going on, borders on stalking. Let’s just say that if this were a woman hell-bent on her freedom, this stuff wouldn’t go down too well.

Ana doesn’t care for his money, which is one of the reasons he loves her, and also a reason why we like our protagonist. Think of this too: she is unaware of her inner beauty, even to the detrimental and unhealthy thought of thinking

“If he wasn’t so… broken, would he want me?”

A really serious thought within a book that doesn’t provide a lot of realistic experiences. It’s a thought that is explored, and shows just how similar Ana and Christian are in their insecurities, despite their wide varying backgrounds, experiences, and lifestyle.

And if Ana were aware of her beauty, and knew she was worth it, and beautiful… would us as women readers still LIKE her? Food for thought.

Some of the lines are laughable and cringe-worthy. Ohhhh the list! Here are some beauties:

“’I like to come as I please,’ He smirks and cranks his glorious smile up another notch so it’s in full HD IMAX.”

Also: “‘You look good,’ Christian purrs from the bed. ‘You can call in sick, you know.’ He gives me his devastating, lopsided, 150 per-cent panty-busting smile. Oh, he’s so tempting. My inner goddess pouts provocatively at me.”

Panty-busting, I actually have to LAUGH OUT LOUD. Other notable mentions come from continuous use of words like “murmur;” the term “kinky-fuckery” (Which made me go what the?…) regarding all of his off-the-beaten track sexual pursuits and needs; his signature “Later’s baby” made me screw up my face in ‘WHY?’ How does a CEO say such a flimsy and dumbed-down empty goodbye?; and the other term, where Ana refers to her female glory as her “sex”…We are already being so forthright and upfront in practically everything, with even the sex scenes broken down and explained in every little detail…

“Grabbing the hem of his T-shirt, I tug and he helps me pull it off over his head. Kneeling between my legs, he hastily pulls me upright and drags my T-shirt off.”

…So why then do we need to be shy about the female anatomy? Does it sound better? Less clinical? Is that the best word? Are all erotic reads like this?

And the clincher “hotline to my groin.” I LOLed all the way home.

While trying to appear hot and heavy I am sure, the passion between them at times palpable, so too are they laughable in their attempt to be taken seriously. My favourite example which I cannot keep a straight face for, when Ana and Christian are in her kitchen and he cannot cook (the ONLY thing he is miserable at):

“I watch him, enthralled as slowly, like the predator he is, he stalks me in time to the slow sultry beat of the music. He’s barefoot, wearing just an untucked white shirt, jeans, and a smoldering look.”

But I DO give James credit for the small amount of realism she displayed in moments where we were reminded that Ana was, initially a virgin before she met Mr Grey.

“Moments later, he’s slamming into me. ‘Aagh! Gently,’ I cry.”

I particularly, for no other reason than WHY? did not like the references Ana constantly made to her ‘inner goddess’ and ‘subconscious,’ her own personal angel and devil mini me’s, where the inner goddess would revel in the attention and sexual desire bestowed upon her by Christian, whereas the subconscious was constantly doubting, criticising, or downplaying any positive event that transpired between the couple.

“My inner goddess is draped in a pink feather boa and diamonds, strutting her stuff in fuck-me shoes.”

“My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication, begging me.”

“This is Christian we’re dealing with. My snarky subconscious is back, hatchet-mouthed, cardigan on, and purse in the crook of her arm.”

“Marry the gazillionaire, Ana! My subconscious has her snarky face on. I ignore her – rapacious bitch.”

I questioned that for someone as lovely as Ana, how she could have an inner voice, a subconscious as she says, who could be so rude, mean and bitchy. But is this just showing us the many sides to a person’s personality, and even, the darkest, disbelieving, and ambivalent side that exists within all of us?

Fifty Shades Darker, like its part protagonist and sometimes antagonist Christian Grey, also shows us many shades of storytelling. The writing itself is simple, yet done so well that often I couldn’t put down the book at the end of the chapter, for a sudden cliffhanger emerging. It works towards the fantasy formula for females, therefore insuring that they will keep reading, and want to keep reading, as their inner-most desires are played out before their eyes and in their minds.

It is a highly unrealistic tale. Here is a powerful and rich man who can do whatever he pleases, and since he wants Ana and no one else, she is the supreme benefactor of this. She is exposed to the high-life of luxury and comfort, and doesn’t even have to work, if she weren’t so determined to keep doing it. Even the journey itself is highly idealistic. Sure it is the first proper relationship for either of them, but what they do during the majority of it is just various positions of sex merged in with occasional fights regarding highly stressful and extraordinary circumstances concerning Grey’s past life and current motivations. The fact that they are even able to commit to each other so quickly considering all of this, just proves how unlikely this scenario is. But, it is fantasy: where the woman gets all her greatest wishes and desires tended to from her first and only lover. He dotes on her and gives her the world, and well, when the sex is mind-blowing, you can kind of see why she sticks around despite the graveyard of skeletons in his closet.

It is not the fame or the sex that make it unrealistic though – both great sex, and wealthy men, are a real thing. What isn’t real is the context the two characters are placed in, and how their relationship proceeds because of it. Having said that, it IS fantasy – it is meant to be an escape from reality, and therefore the series performs its erotic role to the highest grade. The book delivers, and isn’t that what books are all about? No matter what the naysayers say, James has created a series that has catered for and made curious a large majority of women… as a writer, isn’t that what you want? To reach out and affect people through your stories?

Miss Steele and Mr Grey’s exploits continue in the 3rd instalment of the series called Fifty Shades Freed, and I for one look forward to seeing how their relationship might mature. As Ana would say –

“…my inner goddess is incandescent with anticipation. Jeez, she could light up Seattle.”

Oh, hang on…

Steele, Grey… oh James, please stop. Stop with your synonyms, I just can’t!

Please let me know your thoughts on Fifty Shades Darker in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you. 🙂

Holi-bays

The Portarlington By The Bay

40/42 Newcombe Street Portarlington

(Visited January ’19)

In January of 2019, we found ourselves in the most beautiful of places.

We found ourselves, in a truly secluded place.

So secluded in fact, that we had our own beach.

It was amazing, yes. Having so much freedom and space to roam as we wanted on a mini, mid-Summer getaway, felt like heaven.

At first.

And then we missed civilisation terribly.

We realised that when we came home days later, and actually vowed not to travel anywhere ever again until we had explored our own patch of ocean along the entire coast, in FULL.

Nothing to do with our destination. But we had magical waters too. 😉

Anyhow. Halfway through our stay there, we had to get away from seclusion.

So we headed a fair way out of our quiet getaway town, to Portarlington.

Portarlington is a historic coastal town on the Bellarine Peninsula, over 20 kilometres from the city of Geelong, and also on the other side of the Port Phillip Bay, the waters we look out onto every day. We heard it had a fairly good mix of ethnicities, and so with that in mind, and a few restaurant names off the guide left to us in our holiday house, we headed over on a sunny Tuesday to see what would tickle our fancy.

Vineyards, vineyards, oh the vineyards we passed as we drove. So many.

(But we have vineyards too).

The views when we got there, oh the views!

(But we have views too).

Okay, calm down SmikG. Just enjoy the holiday and stop comparing damn it.

We ventured to some restaurants, sussing out the vibe (it’s ALL about the vibe) before deciding on Portarlington By the Bay.

Firstly, there seemed to be available tables. (Well they were, but you all know they can be – surprise surprise! – booked).

Secondly, although we hadn’t booked, the thickly-accented Italian waiter made a spot for us.

Thirdly… the spot was outside, with a great view.

😊

Okay, okay, they win… a little bit.

The décor was very beachy European, with blue and white everywhere. Beach elements decorated the interior, paintings, key pieces… and the open doors inviting the indoor diners out, well it was all tied together very well.

I went fresh and light with a freshly squeezed OJ, while Hubbie started off with a Carlton Draught:

And then baby girl’s kids meal arrived earlier, as requested. Chicken schnitzel, chips and salad.

Ours was soon to follow. Hubbie literally followed suit, with his meal being exactly the same as baby girl’s… just larger:

And meanwhile I went in the direction of the sea, when I got a Seafood Napoli pasta.

OMG. Let’s not worry about their meals. Chicken, chips, yada yada yada.

The sauce in my meal was delicious. Seafood-y, but still with this rich and wholesome tasting home-made like red heaven that was heaped upon my pasta.

Yum yum yum.

I remember feeling, like really happy. Really content. I was like yep, this is how people feel when they are on top of the world.

Life is good.

The beach is across the road.

It is summer.

And I have this awesome plate of seafood pasta that is just singing to my soul.

Mmm hmm.

As for the other two… they were happy. Baby girl was satisfied. Hubbie was satisfied, but also not overly impressed. He didn’t think it was the best chicken schnitzel he’d ever had. (It’s just a meal).

We decided to follow suit with some dessert. That meant another drink for Hubbie, whereas for me it was tiramisu…

(Gasp!)

And for baby girl that was ice cream.

Look, I wasn’t actually planning on dessert. It was all entirely baby girl’s idea (a 5 year-olds idea, really?) She had seen the ice cream case when we visited the loo at one stage, and from then, it was ALL OVER.

Sadly for her, there was one problem.

The strawberry ice cream she had picked, had pips.

You know how real strawberry ice cream, will like, have remnants of strawberries? Yeah well hers did too. But that wasn’t good enough.

5 years old remember?

So even though she had wanted this ice cream so bad, as delicious as it was, it had pips, and that was a big kid no-no.

Sigh.

How do I know it was delicious?

Guess who had to eat it?

On top of my deliciously creamy Tiramisu?

I couldn’t let it go to waste! No way. After eating most of my Tiramisu, Hubbie and I dug into her ice cream (you can’t waste ice cream, no way!)

We were now definitely full, and organised payment of the bill before we headed back into seclusion.

But we got a bit of a surprise when we received the bill. They had charged us a full adult’s meal in lieu of baby girl’s kids meal. I had to go up to the counter inside and explain the issue, before the bill was rectified…

They removed the extra adult meal completely! They didn’t even charge us the kids meal. So although it was a little hiccup, they more than made up for the bill error.

And back out towards the bay views we went, following the crystal blue waters until they led us to our abode.

Food: 8/10. Although the chicken was okay, the pasta was uber-fresh and wholesome, a la Italiana.

Coffee: N/A… this time 😉 Bay views should be appreciated from every angle, especially on a return visit.

Ambience: It was chilled, but sort of bustly too, with people in a generally great mood to enjoy the Summer vibes. There was a distinct tourist-y vibe too, and it did have a slight upmarket feel as well.

Staff: They were friendly, they did their job, and went above and beyond to rectify our billing error.

People: Families, groups of people, and quite a few tourists too. I wonder if we stuck out to them as they stuck out to us!

Price: Well, the ‘adjusted’ price was $106. The ‘charged’ price was $130, but then $24 was removed when we told them that baby girl didn’t in fact have an adult-sized gnocchi… so the real price? Somewhere in the middle.

Advice: Check the bill. You know this is general advice, check the bill wherever you go. I even check the bill after I’m done doing the grocery shopping and I go to the self-serve checkout too!

Secondly, in peak season, warm nights and weekends, it’s best to book ahead. The views are great and would be heavily fought after if not a Tuesday like when we went.

In a nutshell: After all my cheeky jibes of having the same on our side of the waters, I would be more than happy to go back to Portarlington. It is a truly terrific location that you should check out, and the pasta ain’t bad too. 😉 I need to sip a coffee watching those views, right? Need to tick that off on my dining list. All in all, I would be happy to go back, to the other side of the bay.

Portarlington by the Bay Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mornington Peninsula chocola-treats

I ordered a delicious and creative school holiday treat this last week for baby girl.

Mornington Peninsula Chocolaterie in Flinders has a huge collection of online shopping sweet treats for you to enjoy. From hampers to fondue and brownie at home kits, and school holidays at home kits, as well as all the other little delectable sugary goodnesses they create, you can rest assured this place has something to help push any lockdown blues far, far away.

I initially wanted the cookie making and decorating kit, but alas it was sold out for days since I couldn’t locate it. So I decided on the Australian Animal Chocolate Making Kit, along with a little treat of my own (a packet of salted caramel coated pistachios 🤭).

The kit was super easy to understand with clear instructions for each step, and every item was labelled so well, it really is the stuff of an OCD-lister’s dreams. 💖

The pack comes with 3 animal stencils with ingredients to make all 3… and they are decent sized too. Baby girl and I decorated them with lollies and chocolate, and the final result?

Wait, but the taste?

UNBELIEVABLE.

So creamy, rich, this is the chocolate of royalty. An absolute must-try for everyone.

As well as a super fun activity for your kids (or human-sized kids) to enjoy, just as much is it funny, especially after we were done piping the chocolate and ended up piping it into our mouths.

I was such a bad, bad mum, and baby girl loved it. 🙂

Do yourself a favour and grab a kit, or any of their chocolates to appreciate the silky smoothness of their amazing chocolate creations. They deliver to all over Australia, so anyone can try a taste of a proper chocolaterie!

Check them out at: https://www.mpchoc.com.au/about-us/

When we can travel again, they can be found on 45 Cook Street, Flinders, Victoria. Their store is a chocolate and sweet-lovers dream. 😍

Quickie book review #5 Woe-mera

MARK BRANDI – Wimmera

“Then, with his eyes still closed, he reached into his pocket for the rabbit’s foot and gripped it tightly in his hand, pushing it deeper, safer, inside his coat.”

It’s the late 80s, and Ben and Fab are 10 year-old best friends who spend their free days in the country town of Wimmera catching yabbies, running away from the school bully Porky, and playing cricket and two-square.

But then the girl down the road hangs herself, and soon a mysterious stranger moves into the house where she used to live… and starts to take a special interest in Ben.

Two decades later and the past has finally caught up with the present. Will justice prevail on the horrible traumas experienced so many years ago, or will life itself dish out its own brand of karma?

This novel was a fast read for me, for two main reasons: both because the content was hard to read at times, and I had to quickly move past it… but then I wanted to know more, so I was reading desperately fast hoping all would end up okay.

The novel is broken up into 3 parts, and I can easily break down how I was feeling in each of them. Part 1 is the brewing, hold your breath, oh God no part.
Part 2 is the ‘just say it, just say it, just say it’ part that makes you want to keep turning the page.
Part 3 brings it all out in the open, good, and bad.

Gripes: The content is quite difficult and may be impossible for some to get through. If you’re a parent, hell if you’re just a decent human being, you may struggle and be saddened to read many sections. You’ve been warned.

While the ending is really very full circle, I found it both sad and hopeful. I was quite upset about one aspect, and nearly cried whole big tears, but like I said, full circle.

Pros: It’s a gripping story that paints the picture of 80s country life and the secrets that it possesses exceptionally well. It’s a really masterful piece, even if it is about a pretty horrible thing.

Themes of dark family secrets that border on sadism, strong friendships where the need to protect stands above all else, and the small-town, simple-minded folk that flit and float away throughout all of this are the glue that holds this story together. I felt like I was there in town with the characters, with Mark Brandi making it all the more real with his expert grip on weaving the social and cultural references of the time into the tale. It’s a real strength of his.

It’s a deeply troubled story woven into a fascinating tale about the things we need to share with those we love, and explores the reasons why we don’t… I for one am still thinking of this story, a couple of weeks after finishing it, and the characters are still well embedded in my head.

My new rating system? The score out of 10 where I need to know where the characters are.

‘Need to know where the characters are’ rating system: 9/10.

Genre, targeted audience, word count… none of this matters. All that matters is, how much you still want to know about it.

Hit me up if you’ve read this one, I would love to discuss this unique and dark story.

Hungry like Okami

Okami Japanese Restaurant

147 Station Street Fairfield

(Visited December ’18)

It was mid-December, and KK was the name of the game! Yes siree folks, the 2018 Christmas shin-dig with us girls had arrived and we were nice and early in December for a catch up, even managing to book the place weeks in advance! Why, I never!

The place you ask? It was Okami in Fairfield, an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant. The massive drawcard for this place on Station Street, was not just it’s visible location, but the fact that it was $32.80 for everything…

Like, ALL YOU CAN EAT.

Why do we get so excited when we hear those four words, why? I mean, there is only so much we CAN eat, and yet the thought of unlimited food, without limitations…

As a species, we are awfully simple, and awfully stupid.

So let’s see how many courses we got through, shall we?

We were there for the 7:30 session. We started off getting some drinks of which was the classic Umeshu, Japanese Plum Wine.

With an actual plum inside! We all dabbled in this, and it was that kind of sickly sweet type of alcohol that still went to our heads.

Here are the dishes we went for, and shared between us all:

Edamame Beans… I learnt how to eat them that night.. you take the long bean between your teeth, pull the little beans out and suck.

🤣

We also had prawn and vegetable gyozas… mmm so good.

Vegetable spring rolls.

Potato croquettes.

There was also the octopus balls… oh God no. They are the round balls in the spring rolls photo, and let me tell you I had NONE of those. I can’t even look at them without – ugh.

Those were our starters.

For mains, we got the chicken katsu, along with the sides of fried rice and steamed rice (latter dishes not pictured).

My friend also got the sushi and sashimi platter… here is a photo for the sake of looking at food.

My personal faves? The gyozas, and the chicken katsu. So yummy and crunchy.

It was a great night, what with KKs happening, festive paper flying over the table as we unwrapped presents, and lots of girly squeals and laughter.

What the hell. We would do dessert too.

There wasn’t a whole lot on the menu for the sweet stuff, just ice cream flavours… and I didn’t want the green tea or black sesame variety, so I went for plain old vanilla.

Just like my adjectives there, it was fairly plain and old, nothing really amazing to be honest. I ate it but it was clear that although they knew how to do their Japanese dishes… the desserts didn’t have any wow factor.

We all paid the bill, not split though (see note below) and headed on out to fill up Station Street with much more festive love and laughter.

Food: 7.5/10. Most of the dishes were yum, but the ice cream was meh.

Coffee: N/A.

Ambience: Noisy, busy! It was a Saturday night in December, so close to Christmas… can you imagine? Lost of groups getting together for pre-Christmas shin-digs, friends, families… the lot.

People: Like I said, the lot. Older people, younger people, and everyone in between.

Staff: Really friendly. Our waiter was lovely and tended to all our very pressing questions about like, how many pieces of gyoza do you get in a serve? What exactly is in an octopus ball? And do you split the bill? (See below!)

Price: So as I already mentioned, $32.80, all you can eat! Not including drinks, my plum wine was $9 for a 900ml glass. These are likely to have changed since our outing there, so check their website, or call, to avoid disappointment at the counter.

Advice: So, going by my many clues to split bills… there are no split bills! Half of us took a walk before dessert time to find an ATM on Station Street so we could all pay together… so really, if you are going in a group and there isn’t one person shouting, make sure you have $$$ on you.

Also, book ahead, especially for busy times and days. Our session was booked a whole month in advance… be prepared!

In a nutshell: I quite liked the vibe and atmosphere of this Japanese restaurant. I enjoy the premise of little meals where you can have a bit of this, and a bit of that… you get to try everything, and with company. I would go for more katsu (tummy rumbling just thinking about it) and gyoza, mmm, love me some gyoza!

So, I guess the only main thing to note is that when you go, like their name loosely translates… be hungry like a wolf.

Okami Japanese Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Quickie book review #4 Don’t go into the mountains…

KYLE PERRY – The Bluffs

“Jasmine felt Madison squeeze her arm affectionately, and she turned with a smile, patted Madison’s leg, snuggled closer. I hate you so much bitch, she thought.”

Jasmine Murphy and her friends are about to embark on a year 10 camp into the mountains. The destination is the Great Western Tiers National Park in Northern Tasmania, place of legend and folklore of the infamous ‘Hungry Man disappearances’ of 5 girls in 1985.

The mystery of the folklore comes into the present day as they head off on the hiking trip… and out of it comes more questions, secrets, twisted relationships, hidden motives and betrayal than any ‘hungry man’ from the forest can poke a stick at.

Gripes: None, other than it finished! I noted with amusement some common small-town mystery character tropes… the out-of-town detective with a secret, the local drug-lord, corrupt cop, etc.

Pros: EVERYTHING ELSE! I’m calling this my book of the year so far. There is a particular eeriness about this novel that keeps the voyeuristic reader wanting to turn page after page despite the dark themes. After reading Christian White’s front cover review, the blurb, and then that Hungry Man poem, I was honestly shitting bricks, this former lover of ghost and horror movies now turned wimp after motherhood.

But this novel is so, so much more, thank God. Sure it’s crime, but it’s also YA, mystery, small-town secrets (oh the secrets!) and supernatural, with an amazing analysis of the small-town psyche and the various characters that present, entwined in a beautiful sadistic plot of BONE BROTH.

We witness the story unfold through many characters eyes, and this brings the plots and secrets forward to the point that it becomes physically impossible to put the book down. There are so many surprises and secrets all the way to the end, making it a simply brilliant work of fiction.

Note first impressions and initial words said – they provide clues. A great Shawshank feel in it too, for those who are fans of the redemption movie.

Also, sequel potential? I can’t wait!

Quickie book review #3 Melbourne murder re-imagined

KATHERINE KOVACIC – The Portrait of Molly Dean

“But now as thoughts of murder and missing files chase each other around my head, I realise something: I’m completely hooked.”

Alex Clayton is a Melbourne art dealer, with a strong hunch that a portrait of a woman who was murdered in the 1930s will fare her well come resale time. As she sets about finding out more about the subject of the portrait, Molly Dean, she is sucked into a tale that leads her deeper and deeper to expose the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

The first Alex Clayton mystery novel by Kovacic re-tells the real-life story of Melbourne woman Mary “Molly” Dean, who was brutally murdered in the 1930s in St Kilda. She uses fictional characters and motives to reimagine what might have happened.

This is possible, because the case remains unsolved to this very day. Nothing spikes interest like an unsolved murder, right? Just ask the creators of all those successful crime podcasts. There is clever interplay between the world of Molly Dean’s 1930s in the days and weeks leading up to her death, and the ‘current’ 1999 day of art dealer Alex Clayton.

Gripes: Not many. I chuckled at the convenient entrance of some people in the story to allow Alex to re-hash the details with someone else, i.e. her mother calling her.

Not a gripe, but amazed to find the words sanitiser and toilet paper within the first 6 pages of each other, and I kid you not, corona is on page 85… This was published in 2018. 😮

Pros: Cleverly executed, I mean you know the ending, well that of Molly Dean’s anyway as you begin to read… yet knowing this and still wanting to know what happened? Well, it’s crime genre, and you have to know who done it, even if it is a fictional whodunnit, right? Despite not being a major art buff and art is definitely a dominant theme, I was hooked early on.

I also loved the nod to various Melbourne locations. We’re taken to places such as Luna Park and Flinders Street Station, and let’s face it in this day of lockdown we can live vicariously, right? Albert Park Lake, Toorak, and inner-city Melbourne are all made mention of.

Molly never got her closure, she still hasn’t in real life, so it’s a kind tribute when people try to settle it for her. When we recreate the past, however fictional, we try to work things out for the sake of those involved, but more so for ourselves. It brings a peace and closure to the story, and provides a voice for those that can speak no more.

For mystery and crime buffs, you can find out more about Molly Dean if you google podcasts and books on the subject.

Early (coffee) traders

Coffee Traders

3 Blake Street Mornington

(Visited November ’18)

My prerequisite for that Saturday morning was, ‘which local café is open early enough for me to grab a decent bite before my seriously stressful word-passion-fuelled day?’

Or in other words ‘who has good coffee and good grub?’

Some other types of words, okay, not so fancy, but still, they drive the point home.

Because I was headed to the city via train to catch a 10am all day course on the creative process of Writing a Life… and I needed to be fuelled up something decent for something as nerve-wracking as that, reading my own life words out to an audience of strangers in a small room, far, far FAR from home.

And also far from any food or coffee. Which is why what I started with was sooo important that day.

I walked into Coffee Traders, the small café that had won the open-early and good-coffee competition, and I already knew the latter because I’d had great coffee there multiple times already… with an amazing slice of cherry pie. Oh my God. I didn’t even know how good cherry pie could be until I tried it, and DROOOOOLED.

It was post 7am, and I was one of two customers hanging around the joint. No, I lie… there was an older couple drinking their lattes out front.

So I was one of three. 😉

Something substantial. It had to be decent, sustain me the trip to the city, the nerves, the nail-biting anticipation…

So I got the –

Breakfast ciabatta – traders’ traditional smashed egg with bacon, melted cheese, rocket and tomato relish

Oh, it was decent alright. Juicy, and moist, the bun was soft, and the whole thing together, soft and saucy and the perfect kind of meal to eat after a big night out… or before a word-filled day. 😉

It was really filling. I made sure to get my coffee to arrive as I finished eating, and so my cap soon followed.

It was smooth, strong, and a perfect addition to a satisfying breakfast burger.

And off I went, the butterflies in my stomach being held down by a good start to the day…

Food: 7/10. Pleasing yet different enough to be memorable.

Coffee: 7/10. Perfectly hot and strong to accompany the breakfast burger.

Ambience: Okay… quiet? Ha ha. Having frequented this place many times both before and after my word-filled day, it’s a small café that feels intimate but due to its size can get cosy and noisy, really quickly. If you like making friends with the person on the next table, or hearing about their weekend due to earshot, then this is the place for you.

Staff: Friendly.

People: All the locals, so the pensioners, tradies, Mums and bubs, couples, and young-ish creative types (ahem, me).

Price: Under $20 for both, an acceptable and pleasing start to the day.

Advice: Eat the cherry pie! Eat the cherry pie! Eat the cherry pie!

If you don’t like being squashed, go there either at non-peak coffee time (late morning, after lunch) sit outside, or get takeaway.

In a nutshell: Coffee Traders has become one of my many local faves neighbouring the ‘Main Street’ strip, and whether it’s at the start, middle or end of the day, I can always find a reason to stop by…

For that cherry pie! 😉

Coffee Traders Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Quickie book review #2 Amelia in all of us

ERIN GOUGH – Amelia Westlake

“Bios are bullshit.”

For my next ‘quickie’ book review I bring to you a former winner of the coveted Hardie Grant Egmont award, the Ampersand Prize, and with it her second book, Amelia Westlake.

Will Everhart and Harriet Price couldn’t be any more different. Will goes against the mainstream, battling against the establishment as much as she does symmetrical haircuts, while Harriet is the picture perfect high-achieving student, as blonde as she is bouncy on the tennis courts.

A sudden shared goal brings them together to shed light on some unfair treatment being dished out at their prestigious all-girls school.

But they need a ruse, and they can’t use their real name… enter their personal work of fiction, Amelia Westlake, a so-called student at Rosemead Grammar.

It’s a high school whodunnit, only we know whodunnit and we’re waiting for the penny to drop for the powers that be. I love being part of the know. And they go from girls barely able to stand each other, to working well together, to really working well together!

Gripes: Very few, this book was superbly written and grabbed me at every chapter. Minor things like a Nancy Drew/Jessica Fletcher type reveal when the secret is revealed and we get a massive info dump, kind of made me cringe, if only a little.

Continuity piqued my interest when Harriet needs to look up Will’s house address from the school contact list, but the thing is, she’s already been there. Compare pages 192 and 236. I’m a stickler for details.

Pros: This book has so much character. Will and Harriet are so varied in their life, personalities and styles, that it’s impossible to believe you will love them both… and yet you do, so so much. This YA explores so many teenage issues and topics of class, race, same-sex relationships, discrimination, and world issues, while maintaining that really teen-centric vibe and keeping it light and on the pulse all the way through. Very current, and very diverse. I can see the lengths gone to tie up every possible loose end, and the work apparent in doing that makes me stand up and do a standing ovation.

Also, Gough’s ability to write herself out of difficult situations without relying on the deus ex machina, is impressive indeed. I was scratching my head thinking, how will she get from here, to there?

But she did.

One more quote, I can’t leave it at just one.

“Star signs are a loud of crap, but I’m willing to bet she’s a Leo.”

Must read for context. 🤣🤣