[Book Review] The Kiss Thief by LJ Shen

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I haven’t read many arranged marriage novels. I prefer my heroines and heroes to fall in love and come together through mutual attraction and desire, not because of the dealings of a parent or their position in power. However, I enjoyed this book.

Francesca is forced to marry Senator Wolfe Keaton, who happens to be an absolute a**hole. I hated him at first. I detested his cruelty, the way he treated Francesca and women in general. I wanted Francesca to find a way to escape and marry her childhood sweetheart Angelo.

It soon becomes clear that there is no going back. She cannot return to her previous life, due to her father’s misdeeds, and so accepts her fate, although she rebels in her own way. This book takes you through a range of emotions, some good, some almost unbearably bad, and through some unexpected twists and turns.

Through his marriage to Francesca, Wolfe changes, and learns what it really means to love a woman. Francesca seems too young and inexperienced to know in the early days of the relationship how she should be, and deserves to be, treated, but blossoms into a mature young woman, who is forgiving  Рmore than I would be.

I enjoyed this book for the emotional journey it took me on. I was also intrigued as to how the main characters would ever achieve happiness given their initial hatred of each other. It was a romance with a difference – very well written, with stories woven together expertly. It definitely takes you on a journey!

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40? Just getting started

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When I was younger, 40 seemed so far away, it seemed so…old. I would never be 40. It would never happen to me. And then it did. It crept up on me silently, until one day I blinked, and I was 40. Now I’m 41.

How are we supposed to feel when we hit 40? Happy? Content? Washed out? Over the hill? On the verge of a mid-life crisis? When I hit 40, I felt like I was 20. I felt, and still feel, like I am just getting started.

I think the key to this is that I am constantly trying something new. I did a Master’s degree in my mid thirties, and started fiction writing in my late thirties. Embarking on something new and challenging gives us a sense of excitement, of expectation. We have something to aim for, and this invigorates us, and gives us another taste of youth.

My impending divorce has also renewed this sense of beginning. True, dating in one’s 40s is harder than dating in one’s 20s, but I’m excited to think I get to experience the magic of meeting someone new, of getting to know them, and enjoying the thrill of a new relationship. I don’t intend to marry again, so who knows? I might get to experience this more than once. Or I might get to experience a deep, meaningful relationship with someone who loves me for who I am.

I wondered if I felt like this because so much of my life is changing, but I have friends the same age, who are married and well into careers they will still be in at 60, who say exactly the same thing. “I feel like I’m just getting started.” They are also challenging themselves, be it professionally or personally.

I must admit, I surprised myself when I hit 40 and didn’t have a feeling of dread. I felt better mentally than I did in my late 30s. I think that was when I went through an existential crisis of some sort, waiting for 40 to happen. And then it happened. And all was well again.

Comparisonitis

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Do you suffer from comparisonitis? I do, which is why I have to keep telling myself “don’t compare”. My comparisonitis gets bad when I look at other writers who are younger or the same age as me, but are a lot more successful. I think, “she ‘made it’ while she was still in her 20s,” or “she sold a million books by the time she was 40, why haven’t I?”

Whenever I catch myself falling into this negative way of thinking (because it is negative), I try to remind myself that everyone’s situation is different. The woman who sold a million books by the time she was 40 has probably written a hell of a lot more than I have. She’s probably spent most of her waking hours on writing and refining her craft. The woman who ‘made it’ in her 20s could have been laying the groundwork for success from the age of ten, who knows.

I have to remind myself that I have done other things, had other careers, followed a different path, had a different childhood, different upbringing, and have developed a different set of values. Thinking about it, comparing yourself to someone else is a ridiculous thing to do. They have lived their life and experiences, and you have lived yours. It’s only natural that there will be some deviation.

That’s not to say you can’t be inspired or motivated by someone else’s success, and learn from them and try to emulate what they have done. That’s a positive reaction to someone else’s success. Wistfully reading about their successes as you calculate how much younger they are than you, and wondering why they have achieved what they have and you haven’t, creates a vortex of negativity, which can suck you down and make you feel worthless.

Don’t compare. Get motivated. If they can do it, so can you.

[Book Review] Sparks Fly by Lucy Kevin

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Sparks Fly by Lucy Kevin

Lucy Kevin is a name used by the hugely successful Bella Andre for “sweet” romances – those without the steamy scenes.

The main character, Angelina, is a Feng Shui expert. I thought this was an interesting and novel career for a main character as it gives her the chance to poke around people’s houses and get to know them intimately. What’s wrong with their lives? What do they want, or need? How do they go about getting that? It’s a great way for Angelina to get to know her clients, and one in particular.

Will is the CEO of a huge company and is extremely wealthy. His ex-wife hires Angelina to sort his life out, in the hope that Feng Shui will help her to win him back. Unfortunately, in Angelina, she picks the most beautiful and charming Feng Shui expert in town (maybe the only Feng Shui expert in town, I don’t know).

Will and Angelina are attracted to each other from the start. Will, however, is married to his company and his phone, and they have more of his attention than the attractive Feng Shui lady left waiting on his doorstep. Even so, he can’t get her out of his head, and the attraction between them is there from the start.

Angelina has a friend called Krista. I liked Krista. I thought she was more fleshed out than either of the main characters, and her personality really shone through. I could see bits of myself in her, which might explain why I identified with her more than I did with Angelina. She is flirty and fun, and on the lookout for a good time.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll just say that Will’s ex-wife’s plan fails miserably, and something happens aboard Will’s private jet that gives Angelina a lot to think about.

I would have liked Angelina to have been a bit more fleshed out. There were times when I wondered why she thought the way she did about certain things. (As a writer, this made me wonder if I’m fleshing my characters out enough…aarrgh!) But overall, it was a well-written quick read.

Know when to say no

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I used to have a problem with saying no, especially when I was working full-time. If my boss asked me to change shifts, or work overtime, I would always say yes. I felt like I had to, and that it made me seem more cooperative. I thought it would make me more likeable. Of course, everyone wants to be liked, but how much of that stems from insecurity? From the fear of being disliked, or concern about what people think about you?

Looking back to the time when I couldn’t say no, I realise that it came from just that – a fear of being seen in a bad light. In that sense, I guess I let people take advantage of me. I would end up doing more than anyone else, because everyone else had the good sense to say no, and probably more self-confidence.

Being cooperative to the point of burning myself out got me promotions. But I wasn’t happy. I wanted to work for myself, so one day I gave my company the ultimate no and left.

In the first five or six years of working for myself, I said yes to everything. I was too scared to say no. What if I said no to a client, and they never came back? What if I said no to a job and then no more jobs came in all month? How would I eat? How would I pay the rent? I originally started working for myself because I wanted freedom. I ended up working twice as much as I did when I was employed out of fear. This time, it wasn’t the desire to be liked that stopped me saying no, it was fear about my financial prospects. I got to the point where I hated what I did. I didn’t want to work for myself anymore, and I didn’t want to work for someone else. But I had to work.

It was then that I realised the problem. I just needed to take a risk and say no. To refuse jobs that stressed me out, or made me unhappy. To risk not being liked. So one day, I did. And what happened? Work still came in. I didn’t starve. My income didn’t change that much. That gave me confidence to say no again. I started saying no to anything I didn’t want to do.

But I’m feeling scared again. Now I’m single, and dependent on myself for my income and my livelihood. Can I afford to say no to things which are going to stress me out, or things which bring in the money, but are not cost-effective? More importantly, can I say no to work in order to spend that time writing?

To write, I need to say no to other things. I need to turn down work. Is it worth the risk? Will it pay off? There’s only one way to find out. Will I have the courage to do it?

Step closer to your goals

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Sometimes our goals can seem like unattainable dreams. It can be like standing at the bottom of a mountain, staring up at the summit, shrouded in clouds. Our goals are out there. Up there. Way beyond our reach. People say you should divide your goal into small, achievable steps. So if you want to run a marathon by the end of the year, but have never owned a pair of running shoes, buy the shoes first. Then start walking. Then jog for 500m. Then a kilometre. Then work your way up.

The important thing is to make a step towards your goal every day. Every single day. Are you dreaming of running that marathon but find you can’t go jogging one day? Maybe you can stretch for ten minutes instead when you get home from work. Or do you want to be a novelist, but are so busy at work you barely make it home by midnight? Maybe you can jot down a piece of conversation you overheard in the office, or write down qualities of a colleague which might form part of a character for your next book.

Making progress towards your goal every day keeps you motivated. You feel like you are getting somewhere. If a day goes by without me working towards my goal, I feel guilty. I feel like I have let myself down. Some might say that self-inflicted guilt is damaging, but I find it motivating. The next day, I’ll make twice the effort.

When you take a step towards your goal every day, the process seems to slow down. You feel like it will take forever to reach your goal. But unnoticed by you, progress is slowly being made in micro increments, until one day, maybe a year later, maybe two, maybe five, you look back down the mountain, and realize you are there, at the summit. It wasn’t intermittent strolling that got you there. It was the daily trudge, the days when you didn’t want to move, the days when you felt you couldn’t move, but pushed yourself to keep going.

I’m going to make this the year in which I achieve my goals through daily practice. I hope you can do the same.

Back in the dating game

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Now that I’m getting used to being single after 10 years of marriage, I’m looking to get back into the dating game. But how exactly do you do this after a 12 year hiatus and when you are over the age of 40?

It was easy 20 years ago. Most of your friends were single. Most of the people you had your eye on were single. You’d go out to bars or clubs every weekend and it would be relatively easy to find someone. But by 40, most friends are coupled up, and often have kids. Which means you wait for a time for them to be free, or you go out on your own. I don’t mind going out to bars on my own, but I find propping up the bar by myself, trying not to look desperate, a bit sad after a while. Especially when you look hopelessly desperate and people are avoiding you.

“Try online dating” say some friends. “That’s how people meet each other nowadays.” Is it? Are online apps the new generation’s version of bars and clubs? I’m not looking for a man younger than me (I’ve always gone for older men), but will men in their late 40s or 50s be using online dating? Only one way to find out I guess. But what about safety? Then again, is it any less safe than meeting a drunk in a club, like I used to do in my 20s?

“Get a new hobby”. That’s another one. I have a track record of meeting men in gyms, so I could start going to one again. The two I met turned out to be disasters though, so I’m a bit wary of that. I do weightlifting, but at home. I don’t have to wait for my turn to use the weights and I can do it whenever I like. I fit my hobbies in between work.

That’s another problem. Work. When you work for yourself, by yourself, there is no flirting as you wait for the coffee pot to fill. You are in a room, alone, where no one is even aware of your existence.

Add the fact that you live in a really small town, which is quite conservative in nature, and it gets even trickier. I could move, but I like where I live. I’m not desperate enough to move just to get a date. Not yet, anyway.

I’m putting the word out discreetly (or not, seeing as I’m posting this on the Internet), that I’m back in the dating game. I’m asking friends to think about anyone they know who also happens to be single or divorced and might be interested. There’s been no one yet. Then again, I’ve only been separated for a few months. Maybe I need to give it time. And while I’m waiting, I’ll write a book featuring a newly divorced woman, who finds love. Some of her good fortune might rub off on me.

 

Think in Minutes

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I read somewhere (can’t remember where), that successful people think in minutes rather than larger blocks of time.

There are 1,440 minutes in a day. I wonder, how many of those do I waste? Quite a lot I think. I tend to think in 30 minute or hour blocks. So if I know I am going out in an hour, I won’t start something. I tell myself that there’s no point in doing any writing or other kind of work, because I’ll be going out soon. I end up wasting an hour (usually on the Internet) while I wait for the time to leave.

What if I started thinking of time as minutes? I have 60 minutes before I leave. What can I get done in those 60 minutes? While I might not be able to work on my novel (I need larger chunks of time, like, three hours or more to get in the “zone”), I could write a blog post, brainstorm some ideas for short stories, do a bit of marketing, work on my accounts…

Out of the 1,440 minutes in a day, I’d say that I use only about 400 of those productively. The rest are spent asleep, doing chores, or wasted, as I fill time between appointments and jobs with unproductive activities.

Time to change. I’m going to make this a year of thinking in minutes, and see how much I can get done.

Step away for a while

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Sometimes life as a solo entreprenuer is overwhelming. Finding clients, keeping them happy, keeping up to date in your field of expertise, promoting your business, promoting yourself, dealing with unexpected issues and problems, keeping to deadlines, keeping an eye on cashflow, trying to beat the competitors, trying not to worry if you’ll still be in business next year…the list goes on.

The hustle never ends, from the early days when you are establishing your brand to the time when you have a profitable business up and running, there is always something that needs your attention.

I started my business because I wanted freedom. I didn’t want to run on someone else’s schedule, have someone tell me where I had to be at any given time, to be dependent on someone else for my own financial security. I wanted the freedom to work to my own schedule and be responsible for myself and my income. It’s paradoxical, but I find that I have less freedom in some respects now that I work for myself. Instead of a boss deciding my working hours, my clients do with their deadlines. I worry about turning work down this month in case none comes in next month. I feel like I can’t leave the office, in case I miss a job. But still, I’d choose this life over the corporate life. My life, no matter how busy and stressful, is my own.

But sometimes, it can all get a bit overwhelming. I find pushing on through this stage is detrimental to my mental health and wellbeing. I’m at that stage now. So, I’m going to take a step back. I have told my clients I am unavailable until next year. I have decided to write nothing until next year. I’m not going to try and think up any new stories, plan any new novels, or do any social media. I need the break to recharge. When I’m overwhelmed, my creativity suffers greatly. So, I’m going to enjoy the Christmas season, and not think about work. I just have to trust in my business and myself that work, and ideas, will be there in January when I’m refreshed.

Time for a rest, with people I love. Happy holidays, see you next year. x

Keep your eye on the goal

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It’s that time of the year when many of us start thinking about New Year’s resolutions, and goals for the coming year. But how many of us actually follow through and achieve our goals? Do you ever find yourself slowly drifting away from them as the year passes by, until they are nothing but a regret? And then the cycle starts again – the goals you didn’t acheive become goal for the next year, and then the next, and the next…

I think this happens because we lose sight of the goal. This January I decided to write down my goals for the year, and keep them on my desk where I see them every morning, and every time I look down. I didn’t use the future tense for these goals, eg. I will write five novels, rather, I used the past tense – I have written five novels. It worked. I wrote five novels.

This gets me into the success mindset. I feel like I “can” do something because I “have” done it. (Even though I really haven’t.) It makes it feel possible. It also makes me feel more accountable. If I say I have done something, but haven’t really, shouldn’t I be making every effort to ensure my actions back up my words?

I have just written my goals for 2019 and taped the paper to my desk. It reads “I have written four novels. I have written four short stories. I have written and published a non-fiction book. I have exercised for 30 minutes every day. I have completed a 20km run every month.” And the last – “I have complete financial freedom.”¬† I will repeat it to myself every morning to motivate me.

Unless something drastic happens (apart from my divorce!) I’m confident I’ll achieve my goals, because I’ve already told myself I have.

Keep your eye on the goal. It only takes a few seconds of lost focus for your goal to become a regret.