Book Review: Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Crosstalk by Connie Willis
(Publisher Advance Copy)

A great new geeky romantic novel by Connie Willis, Crosstalk will appeal to lovers of Jennifer Crusie, Rainbow Rowell and Graeme Simsion

Readers of Jennifer Crusie, Rainbow Rowell and Graeme Simsion will likely enjoy Crosstalk, the latest romantic novel from the queen of humorous and entertaining Science Fiction, Connie Willis.

Briddie Flannigan works for a mobile phone company working on a big new release to rival Apple’s latest offering.  Simultaneously, her boyfriend Trent pops a very millennial question, asking her to join him in undertaking a neurological procedure that will bring them closer by allowing them to directly feel one another’s emotions.  When things go slightly awry with the procedure, Briddie must reevaluate many aspects of both her life and modern life in general, guided by an unlikely support team: scruffy and quirky anti hero C.B. Schwartz, a colleague of hers at the mobile phone company; and her precocious 9-year old niece Maeve.

One thing that has always simultaneously delighted and perplexed me about Connie Willis is her ability to have her finger on the  social pulse, while often discounting or neglecting crucial technological developments.  The absence of a portable phone system in Willis’s 2050 Oxford in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog is infuriating at times, but I also recognise that the grim chaos and confusion of Doomsday Book, and the extreme farce of To Say Nothing of the Dog couldn’t have happened without the plot device that the lack of mobile telephony enables.  Willis makes up for this technological oversight in Crosstalk by embracing the mobile phone trope, and ramping up connectivity to an unbearable level.  I don’t want to provide too many spoilers, but it is very fair to say that this is definitely a novel about connection fatigue.

And in the modern world, what better connection is there than love?  I have always adored Willis’s romantic subplots, as she has intelligent, self-possessed heroines and a gorgeous line of attractive anti-heroes.  Her romantic heroes are never alpha males, are often slightly bumbling and scruffy or socially inept, but reveal themselves to be sensitive, intelligent and have the kind of hidden depths and social intelligence you only encounter upon getting to know someone a little better.  Crosstalk explores not only connection fatigue, but also romance fatigue in general. In many ways, this is a romance novel for readers who are sick of or suspicious of romance.

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Treat Yourself: Bedlinen

cultiver-sheets

After getting divorced in my late twenties, I lived alone for the first time. It was a quite roomy one bedroom house with a large living room, long corridor and large and very liveable kitchen. It was the entire downstairs of a Sydney terrace house and had a gorgeous garden out the back. I rented on Gumtree (Australia’s Craigslist) and it cost me a third of my salary each week. This was a luxury I decided I needed for a while, to help me find some peace and also test myself: to see if I could live alone and if I would enjoy it.

My new house came furnished and while there was a lot of stuff in the house… shabby antique furniture and over 100 vintage pictures hung on the walls, the bedroom was surprisingly minimal. It just had a plain double bed with no headboard, and a lamp that sent out a gentle, mellow light from a little bedside table. To personalise the bedroom and give myself a little luxury, I splashed out on a gorgeous quilt cover from Spacecraft. It made the room, and also helped me feel extremely happy going to bed each night alone. I loved that little house and discovered in my year there (among other, much more important things) that good bedlinen is a little luxury that can help you every day.

Whether it is a statement quilt cover, or buttery linen sheets, or a collection of mismatched vintage pillow cases, this is a gorgeous and practical way to treat yourself. We do spend a third of our life in bed, after all.

Best Cleansers for Oily Skin

Even in my thirties, my skin is still rather oily and I experience a lot of congestion. Especially after a long day at work or out and about in the city, I love few things more than cleansing my face and getting everything soft and smooth again. It can be hard to find a cleanser that really gets all the gunk out of your face, leaving pores clean, without making your face feel tight and shiny or dry and flakey.  Through trial and error (and lots of samples), I have found 5 that I love.

These are my favourite day and night cleansers for clean, soft skin.

Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel
Deep cleansing, but very gentle on the skin. Used by lots of beauty therapists at the start of your facial or skin treatment. I often get travel sized bottles of this face wash in promotions from Adore Beauty, so it is often my travel cleanser of choice.

Alpha H Triple Action Cleanser with Thyme
A luxurious, beautiful smelling cleanser that leaves your skin feeling really clear. The liquid is quite thick and viscous but you don’t need much of it to get a great wash. Great for makeup removal, too. Leaves skin feeling clean, soft and balanced.

Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Foaming Wash
Comes is a very generously sized tube and foams up really nicely. If you love a cleanser with lots of foam and bubbles, and want deep cleansing that doesn’t leave your skin tight this is a great choice. Especially good in summer when you wear a lot of sunscreen.

Dr Hauschka Cleansing Cream
More of a scrub than a cleanser, but this is a very gentle one that really cleans pores by massaging the skin in a way that gently removes deep dirt and impurities. Far less abrasive than other scrubs and helps control the skin’s natural oil production. Always leaves my skin glowing.

Neutrogena Deep Clean Facial Cleanser
By far the cheapest cleanser on this list, but currently my favourite! Leaves skin feeling perfectly clean and supple. My skin has really cleared up over the last few weeks while using this cleanser and I am really happy with it – especially the price! I love that it comes in a pump bottle.

Spring Style: Boho Minimalism

Spring Style Trend: Boho Luxe Minimalist

I never imagined that I would be a bohemian dresser. I wear little jewellery and generally like my clothes to be embellished with simple style lines or interesting and unusual construction methods.

Lately, though, I have been drawn to Toast, Isabel Marant Etoile, Ace & Jig, Steven Alan and Rachel Comey, and a few Australian Designers who do boho minimalism really well: Fleur Wood, Lee Mathews, Morrison and Tigerlily in particular.

And I just bought my first pair of dropped-crotch trousers… and can’t stop checking the instagram of Sincerely Jules and The Luxi Look

The fact that summer is coming, planning evening trips to the beach now the days are longer and warmer, and dreaming of tropical and sub-continent holidays has definitely helped, as has a growing obsession with Ikat fabrics and Kilim textiles.

Boho Minimalist Rules

But because I am a sartorial minimalist at heart I have a few style rules for myself to keep this new luxe desire for embellishment under control.

Play with texture

Keep the silhouette simple and add detail with special fabrics, but without being overly decorative. Think linen and silk, fabric manipulation like pintucks, lace inserts, embossed and textured woven fabrics and monochrome embroidery rather than all over lace, fringing or pom pom edging.

Careful with pattern

If the print is big or small, stick with just the one item of clothing made of out patterned fabric. This one pattern can compliment the textural differences of your other garments, without being over the top.

Play with proportion

Thinking about the silhouette again, don’t assume that everything has to be voluminous, a simple oversized shift or an a-line maxi skirt in a vintage fabric with good drape can work just as well as a frou frou ruffled off-the shoulder dress. Likewise, if you choose a simple style of camisole, shirt or dress, texture or simple embellishment can still make it feel luxe. Just because you are leaning towards the bohemian, doesn’t mean you can’t keep it sedate and elegant.

Keep your colour palette simple

Monochrome layers in taupe, grey, black, ecru, dusty pinks or white, contrasting navy and light neutrals, or one to two bright colours (at most) with a neutral background.  Indigo. More indigo.

Use vintage folk accents

Use vintage items wisely, by having a minimal and possibly even monochrome outfit, but with a vintage fair isle or lopi jumper, or a blouse with embroidered or lace insets.

Melbourne Day Trip: Macedon Ranges, VIC

Granite Hills Winery, Macedon Ranges

Just an hour from Melbourne, The Macedon Ranges offer a perfect out of town day trip.  Even in rainy September, this hilly rural area was on fine display with daffodils blooming everywhere as the towns and vineyards en route celebrated the coming of spring.

If you are planning on wine tasting, aim for a Friday or Saturday when more vineyards are open. On the Thursday we set out, there were 7 easily identifiable vineyards open for tastings, but they were spread out over a wide area and we had to plan our route.  Granite Hills in Baynton was our pick of the bunch with a smart cellar door, a welcoming host and an impressive range of fragrant and complex cool climate wines.

After hitting a few vineyards we stopped in trendy Kyneton for a late lunch.  The main drag Piper Street is full of edgy and interesting artisan clothing, antique, homeware and culinary stores housed in historic shopfronts (vintage homewares store Kabinett was particularly awesome). Right in the middle  of Piper Street is historic pub The Royal George Hotel, revisioned five years ago as a low key hipster mecca, complete with taxidermy, peeling wallpaper, a large range of craft beers.  The chilled out modern folk on the stereo on the day we were dining included Blitzen Trapper, Bright Eyes and Dana Falconberry.

It would be easy enough to head on from Kyneton to Daylesford and make a proper weekend of it, but as we had to return our rental car by 6pm, we headed off from Kyneton at about 4pm for an easy 60 minute drive back to the Melbourne CBD.  I’ve already started looking for Airbnb properties to rent for a weekend in the future, though.

Ate: Red Duck Curry and Mornington IPA at The Royal George Hotel
Explored: Macedon Vineyards, including Hanging Rock and Granite Hills
Region Highlights: Kyneton, Daylesford

Girl In Melbourne

melbourne-capitol

A sneaky mid-week trip to Melbourne recently provided a chance to catch up with friends and find some much needed relaxation.  We fine dined, soaked in baths, visited museums, did some shopping, played some pool and had a glorious day trip in the Macedon Ranges.

A few years ago, Tourism Victoria had a great ad campaign with the tagline ‘get lost in Melbourne’, and staying in the Capitol Building near Flinders Lane, Little Collins Street, and Degraves Street was a great way to get lost in all the laneways and arcades full of curious little shops and cafes.  I loved that every time I turned a corner there was a choice which way to explore, and that could find so many different ways from street to arcade.  If you are planning to visit Melbourne, I would definitely recommend staying right in the thick of it.  Melbourne is such a walkable city and so fun to explore to exhaustion, and with a new free tram zone in the city centre it’s even easier to get around and also venture further afield.

Stayed at: A Capitol Building Apartment booked with Airbnb
Ate at: Attica, Horse Bazaar, Mess Hall, Journal, Queen Victoria Markets
Relaxed at: Onsen Ma Japanese Bathhouse
Explored: Macedon Ranges wineries
City Highlights: Melbourne CBD Laneways, Ripponlea, Fitzroy

Rainy Spring Melbourne Packing List

rainy

We’re off to Melbourne for four days on Wednesday, and the weather forecast says rain, rain and more rain. It makes sense as it’s just turned Spring here in Australia, and Springtime up and down Australia’s East Coast is always a bit rainy. But I didn’t quite plan for this, and am now drastically changing my packing plans.

Outer Layer
Apart from Summer, when it’s hot everywhere, it’s always about 5-10 °C colder in Melbourne than Sydney. Because of the chill factor, I was planning on taking my favourite cold weather outer layer, a gorgeous oxblood red wool cape from Cue. This isn’t going to be very practical if it’s all rain all the time, however, so I think I’ll just stick with my trusty Paddy Pallin rain parka. I have had my rain coat for years, and intentionally bought a black one because I knew it would be perfect for incognito rainy days in the big city as well as for tramping (hiking) and rainy country days with my parents in New Zealand.

Footwear
There is really only one pair of shoes I wear during rainy weather, and it’s my black R.M. Williams boots. My trusty turnouts are slim and dainty enough to wear with skirts or dresses, but are also the perfect utilitarian match for a pair of skinny jeans. They are so waterproof: I have stepped out of cars into overflowing gutters and walked through creeks and never got a wet foot, ever. Unlike some shoes which just won’t survive a drenching, they always dry fine. With a nice cushioned pair of ice breaker running socks or a luxe pair of thick hand knitted alpaca socks they are comfy all day, even when there is lots of walking involved. In anything but the middle of summer they are my go-to shoes for any city break or rural ramble.  Even better, because they slip on and off, I will be wearing this bulky item on the plane.

Bottoms
I could totally stand to take just one pair of jeans, but I like options, so will be taking my grey Citizens of Humanity Rocket jeans and my black Frame Le Skinny de Jeanne jeans. Both are durable, soft, comfy, stretchy, withstand damp weather and repeat wears without washing. If I want to dress them up I will throw on a silk kimono top or a camisole and blazer.

Tops
But to be honest, because it’s Melbourne, I will probably just live in a soft bamboo singlet and chambray button down shirt, or a tshirt and merino cardigan. I would rather be comfortable than fancy, and just sewed a gorgeous scarf out of a soft Nani Iro double gauze fabric in a vibrant blue, so I can use that to jazz up my outfit if I feel a bit drab.

Fancy
We are going out to dinner to Attica, and I should probably dress up a little, so I will make an exception to my comfy and casual rule, and pack a nice little black dress from Camilla and Marc (this one is similar) to wear. I guess if it’s rainy I should probably pack some stockings and a pair of heels (or booties?). And maybe an umbrella…

Ways to Read More

Girl Reading

If you are stuck in a reading rut and would like to find more time to spend with a good book, try joining an online book group. Unlike a traditional book group where you all read the same book at the same time, an online book group will connect people all over the world through a dedicated hashtag so they can share what they are reading. I like the flexibility and the enthusiasm of the two groups below, and they are both full of gorgeous, welcoming readers.

The Year In Books
The Year in Books was started by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees and is an ongoing project open to everyone. You can join in at any time, and can participate via your blog, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest. The Year in Books (#theyearinbooks) is about making space for reading in our busy lives, and is a way for us all to discover more books (and lovers of books).

The aim of the project is to read (at least) a book a month during 2016. At the start of the month Laura writes a post about what she is planning to read that month, and includes some thoughts about the book she has just read. You can share your reading, too – via #theyearinbooks on Twitter or Instagram, or check out the Year in Books Pinterest board for inspiration.

Read Watch Play
Read Watch Play (#rwpchat) is similar to The Year in Books, but every month has a theme. There is a blog run by a wonderful group of Australian Librarians that outlines the themes and is home to a monthly reading group of people all over the world (many of them librarians).  As well as sharing their reading on various social networks through the hashtag, there is a scheduled twitter chat at #rwpchat on the last Tuesday of each month. You are welcome to use the hashtag to talk about your reading and to join in on the chat each month.  Because people tweet from all over the world the twitter chat is a staggered discussion starting at 8.00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, 9.00pm New Zealand Time, 6.00pm Singapore Standard Time, 12.00 noon Central European Summer Time, 8am – 10.30am, 2pm – 4pm GMT.

If you Liked The Kettering Incident…

Kettering

I have been busy in the evenings the last few weeks watching the gorgeous Elizabeth Debicki in new Australian drama The Kettering Incident.  Set in Tasmania, this series uses the best creepy aspects of its setting to create a suspenseful gothic vision of rural Australia.  I love that while the series is very ‘rural gothic’ (a genre I love), it also has a touch of the supernatural and otherwordly.  I’m not going to say any more, because… spoilers… but below are some shows, movies and books that I found myself thinking about while watching.

Top of The Lake directed by Jane Campion
In My Father’s Den directed by Brad McGann
Broadchurch created by Chris Chibnall
Twin Peaks created by David Lynch
Stranger Things created by The Duffer Brothers
The X Files created by Chris Carter
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Salvage: 5 things you can do to extend the life of your clothes

Salvage: 5 Things You Can Do to Extend the Life of Your Clothes

I am resisting the urge to buy new clothes lately, and am trying to take care of the clothes I have. A little meditative labour can save you hundreds of dollars and extend the life of clothes that you love. You will still love them to death one day, but with a little maintenance you can make them last so much longer. To this end, these are the meditative mending tasks I find myself doing on a lazy rainy day on the couch in front of an episode of The Kettering Incident:

Darning

Learn how to fix holes in knitted things, and do it quickly before the hole grows so big as to be unmanageable. There are lots of different ways to darn, and depending on the thickness of the knitted fabric you could darn with anything from tapestry wool to transparent nylon or silk thread. Pinterest has some great instructions for different darning methods.

Replacing Buttons

Fixing loose buttons, or replacing sets of buttons entirely can either make barely functioning clothing useful again, or can revitalise an old tired look. Many times I have bought a rather ordinary dress or coat second hand, and then totally reworked it just by changing the buttons. You could have an old slightly-worn black shirtdress that you freshen up with kelly green buttons, or a nice coat with rather ugly buttons that you replace with something much more classic or timeless. Learning how to sew a shank button on well is an especially useful skill (especially when that coat has got just a little too tight and you need an extra millimetre or two at the bust or midriff).

Depilling

For the love of all that is good in life, get yourself a cashmere comb! My boyfriend bought a sweater online recently that came with its own cashmere comb. I am pretty sure the teeth are made of diamond. This wondrous object of worship now lives in the top drawer of his desk and I use it at least once a week on my three cashmere cardigans and any merino or machine knitted item that is getting a bit ‘pilly’. It keeps my knitwear looking so much less ratty and I feel far more polished and together leaving the house. Depilling is an activity second only to the power of lint brush (I love the kind with sticky layers of paper that you tear off only to reveal a pristine new layer). If you can’t get your hands on a cashmere comb, I hear on good authority that a lady bic razor can also do an excellent job.

Replacing a Zipper

Can you count on more than one hand the number of times you have thrown out or donated an item of clothing just because the zipper no longer works? It’s actually pretty easy to replace a zipper, even if it’s not the right length to start with. I would definitely recommend buying a zipper foot for your sewing machine. I bought my zipper feet on ebay and they (like learning to drive), have changed my life. Being able to replace a zipper is also a useful skill when you have an item of clothing that is either slightly too large or slightly too small, being able to take it in a bit at the back seam or let it out as you add a new zipper, can make all the difference. Life is too short to wear ill fitting and uncomfortable clothes, better to goldilocks the shit out of that favourite garment and make it… just right.

Polishing your Shoes

While I actually never polish my shoes, most days I look at them and think ‘how much better would life be right now if my shoes were shiny and unscuffed!?’ Like doing my nails and blowdrying my hair, I feel like taking better care of my shoes is one of those things I could definitely do to make myself feel more polished. Paying close attention to how worn down the heels of your shoes are and taking them to a cobbler to get replaced is another of those things that can literally save you hundreds of dollars.

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