Book Review: Past Secrets by Cathy Kelly.

past-secrets-cathy-kelly-goodreadsNo. of pages: 615 pages

Publisher: HarperTorch

Year: September 13, 2012

Setting: Ireland

Official Website: Cathy Kelly

Past Secrets by Cathy Kelly was quite a pleasant book to read but it just added more nights of sex, secrets, lies and betrayal to my misery. Which is a shame as I still have many more Cathy Kelly books to go in the bag of books I borrowed from a friend. Not wanting to be a party pooper to the author’s books but I think I may have overdone it with constantly reading the same kind of books too often in a row.

What I should be doing is interspersing them with the other books that I have that aren’t too full of sugary sweet romance, buckets of tears and hidden stashes of secrets. And to think I thought I was done with Dorothy Koomson’s stuff of reality nightmares but when I decided to continue going down that path, I knew it was a mistake. As it is, life itself is pretty harsh, I didn’t think I needed more reminders of how people aren’t always what they seem or claim to be.

There were too many nights of drama and debauchery for me. One too many. About how lying never helps any situation and it only gets worse when your lies get out of hand. About how it’s better to be yourself than to be someone you’re not or to be someone you think the other person wants you to be. I knew it was time to take a short break from the stuff that reality is made of and go for something a little more me. Like I said, reality is hard enough as it is and I don’t need a book to rub it in. So I went with Skios by Michael Frayn. Which I will talk about when I’ve finished reading it.

Blurb from Goodreads:

The women of Summer Street have their fair share of secrets and soon learn that if you keep a secret too long it will creep out when you least expect it…
The warm and moving new novel from the No. 1 Bestselling author of Always and Forever.
Keep a secret too long and it will creep out when you least expect it…

Behind the shining windows and rose-bedecked gardens of Summer Street, single mother Faye, hides a secret from her teenage daughter Amber. Whilst thirty-year-old Maggie, hides one from herself.

When fiery Amber decides to throw away her future for love, and Maggie finds herself back home looking after her sick mother, secrets begin to bubble over.

The only person on Summer Street who appears to know all the answers is their friend Christie Devlin. Wise and kind, she can see into other people’s hearts to solve their problems. Except that this time, she has secrets of her own to face.

Now, the thing with secrets is that they have a tendency to come out when you least expect them. Not to mention, secrets also have a tendency to rear their ugly heads when you’re going through a tough time and the last thing you need are for them to make things worse.

About the Book

Faye Reid is a single mother to teenager Amber Reid who dresses conservatively and holds down a respectable job in a recruitment office. Despite her professional front, she hides a secret from her daughter about the whereabouts and history of her father. Amber Reid has no idea who her father is and how her mother ended up single-handedly bringing her up. Amber, however, had been studying for her final exams and with a neat talent for art and painting, everyone is expecting her to go to art college. But she herself harbours a secret that she has no idea how to break it to her mother — Amber has no plans of going to college at all! She wants to run away with her boyfriend Karl and his band of musicians as they prepare to go on a tour to New York.

Maggie Maguire has been living with her lecturer boyfriend Grey Stanley for as long as she can remember until one day, she finds him in bed in their apartment with another woman. A young student in her twenties. At the same time, her mother falls down and injures her leg. Her father is clueless about household chores and looking after his wife so he calls his daughter to move back in to help out. It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time for Maggie to decide what to do so she ditches Grey and moves back home with her parents.

Even Christie Devlin, the friend whom they turned to for advice, is hiding a secret herself. Despite her happy marriage to James Devlin and with two adult sons who now have their own families, Christie is afraid that her secret affair with Carey Wolensky, an artist, will surface and destroy the trust, happiness and joy that she has built so carefully with her husband. Everyone has secrets, so it seemed, in the book but no one wanted to be the one to be honest and upfront about it. Because they knew that their secrets will most certainly tear down the emotional bunkers that they have carefully constructed for the safekeeping of their secrets.

What I Thought

Past Secrets was definitely a light and humorous book to read with the plenty of dialogue, description and action. It was a story that talked about fresh beginnings no matter where the characters were, no matter what had happened to them in the past that caused each of them to look for a clean slate and start anew. It is inspiring to read about each character’s journey through hell which made them suffer at first but ultimately, you knew they would eventually triumph. Also, each character had realistic and compelling personalities that was enough for readers to bond and relate with.

The book was pretty decent as there is nothing new about sex, lies and secrets or the petty dramas surrounding friendships and relationships. After all, Dorothy Koomson has been there and done that for me. I still have a string of Cathy Kelly books to read so I think I’ve probably learnt my lesson too. One emotional book at a time, alternating with some of my own less emotional and much darker books. It’s probably just me but I can’t really ride the emotional rollercoaster all the time, even if it was just a story.

A Costly Convenience for the Digital Savvy.

Sometimes I wonder if modern technology today is good for us. Technology has helped to save lives, complete tasks, build machines, design skyscrapers and manufacture various modes of transportation. Yet at the same time, technology can also destroy what we have worked so hard to create. It can turn round any time and stab us in the back especially if it falls into the wrong hands.

is technology a

Why I’m bringing this up is because there have been a spate of break-ins occuring lately in so-called gated-and-guarded properties. Despite the number of guard patrols, high-tech security perimeter fencing, video surveillance and smartphone-controlled alarm systems, these culprits are still able to enter our homes without breaking a sweat.

This leaves me with these questions: Do they know how to hack into our safety measures that we have so carefully placed on our homes? Or perhaps they have a hacking software that unlatches the safety hooks that we’ve placed to protect ourselves?

In this new age of technology, there exists a wide range of tech gears and gadgets in the market that promise to simplify or enhance our lives. For the big spenders, a real-life, to-scale car conversion kit or an underwater recreational vehicle (RV) will certainly leave a glossy impression with their friends. For the restless travellers, breaking the bank for the latest, state-of-the-art gadgets will likely put you in the centre of attention.

Like I mentioned above, technology can be a double-edged sword depending on who is the one wielding it. The underwater RV is certainly not a practical purchase and you would be wary of bringing your expensive gear with you when you go around the world. Although we can forgive you for thinking of how easily some wallet-draining thingamabobs fit into our carry-on to make our next trip stress-free; from tech toys that allow you to keep an eye on your home or pets while you’re away, to handy gadgets for translation, or multi-USB-port power banks to keep your mobile phones powered up (phew, what a mouthful!).

Who can forget the automated and secure locks that are fast becoming an integral part of smart homes? Who knew that we would live long enough to see the deployment of keyless entry systems that can easily be managed with a tap of your finger on your smartphone app? You may jump for joy now knowing you can instantly grant and revoke access to your home while you’re on-the-go. But have you given any thought to what might happen if your phone fell into the wrong hands?

See, this is when technology can backfire and betray you.

It’s one thing to have convenience at your fingertips but it’s a whole different story when things go awry. The bar has been raised even higher with many hotels implementing the utilisation of mobile applications as their hotel room keys, which allows guests to bypass the front desk altogether. Now how about that? Have you ever made a reservation at a hotel room like this before? Would you think of this as a convenience or a threat?

While the ability to book a flight and reserve a hotel room online is nothing new, the switch to the focus on how much your smartphone capability is. In 2012, a mere 2 per cent of passengers preferred to use their smartphones for travel booking but that number had increased more than three times to 70 per cent in 2015! Travellers rarely part from their smartphones, and a larger value of mobile technology may reside in its ability to provide a seamless experience while in transit.

To make matters worse, the invention of geolocation has now provided us with the ability to receive status updates based on what part of the travel process we are in, from security lines to flight delays to full itinerary changes. Do we really need to know exactly where you have been, what you are doing at that very instant and who you are with now? Not likely. Letting the whole world know your whereabouts is a huge risk if that data and information fall into the wrong hands. So what would your best practice be then?

As the creation of new travel tools increases with a host of amazing opportunities to share and consider, so does your responsibility to address these issues and take control of your well-being. Your safety is yours alone to monitor and manage. The last thing you need is to open up your home to strangers who don’t care much for your dog.

A Bubbling Cauldron of Emotions.

dealing-with-emotions-at-work

Emo Nemo. Drama Queen. Cry Baby.

Yeah, I’m almost certain that some of us have been called one of the names above before. At least once, and it isn’t a label that I’d welcome and be thankful for. Because emotions are part of us and it is normal for us to be emotional. Although, being overly emotional is taking a step too far.

But what would you do if the project you worked so hard at was cancelled; when a customer snaps at you unfairly; when the colleague whom you’re very close to was laid off; when your boss assigns you more work when you’re already overloaded! These are stressful situations and excuse me if I’m suddenly feel like breaking down. My natural reactions would either be to break down in tears or start shouting, or hiding in a corner and feel sorry for myself. Because, hey, aren’t we entitled to a little boo-hoo once in awhile? We’re not robots, you know.

But as much as I’d hate to admit, these types of behaviour at work could seriously harm my professional reputation and productivity. And you know why I’m bringing this up? Because it happened to me not too long ago and I’d like you all to be aware that while having a mental and emotional breakdown is completely normal, it won’t be taken too kindly and well by your peers or your manager.

Stressful situations are common in a workplace especially when you face an overload of information, constant changes, scarce resources. Sometimes, it can become harder and harder to manage your emotions under such pressured circumstances. But try, you must, to manage them. After all, if management is forced into making layoffs, they may choose to keep those who can keep tabs on their emotions and work well under pressure. So how can you improve on managing your emotions and how should you react to bad situations?

Below are some of the common emotions you’ll feel at your workplace:

  • Frustration, annoyance, irritation
  • Worry, nervousness, anxiety
  • Anger, upset, aggravation
  • Dislike, discomfort of working with someone
  • Disappointment, unhappiness, feeling of inadequacy

Here’s what you can do when you feel them threatening to burst forth like a broken water dam:

Learn to accept and value your emotions at work

We cannot prevent emotions nor stop ourselves from feeling them. So we need to accept them. Accept that you will feel upset when a coworker snaps at you unnecessarily. Accept that you will feel disappointed if something you did didn’t go well. Accept that you will feel harried and unhappy when your workload triples despite having not met the previous deadlines. Accept that emotions at work are perfectly okay.

Pay attention to your body

Your body usually knows what emotion you are feeling before your mind does. Stop what you’re doing and take a moment to think about your physical sensations (pounding heart, shortness of breath, shaking hands, or sweaty palms). This is your chance to diffuse the negative feelings before they get the better of you.

Pay attention to your instincts

You know that gut feeling that tells you when something just ain’t right? Most of the time, we tend to ignore that gut feeling because it isn’t always right every time. But if alarm bells are going off in your head, your instincts are probably telling you to get the hell out of an uncomfortable situation right the f*** now! Instincts are the messages that your body sends to keep you out of danger. For once in our lives, we should really listen to them!

Pay attention to your perceptions

What you feel can reveal how you perceive an event or action, and most of the time, our perceptions have little to do with the other person involved. Try to make a habit of questioning your perceptions and assumptions. Ask yourself where they come from and whether there is evidence that they are correct.

Regulate your emotions at work

You can never stop yourself from experiencing emotions at work, and you really shouldn’t either because they would eventually build up and explode one day. Don’t be like me. I used to bottle it all up until one day, the dam burst and overflowed. Unfortunately for me, some people saw it and did not hesitate to report the situation to my manager. But you can learn to use them more effectively.

A negative situation will only get worse if you keep adding negative emotions to it. Step back and take a deep breath. This will help to calm your nervous system. Distract yourself from over-reacting. You will only be able to think clearly and properly when your scumbag brain isn’t obsessed with trying to murder the culprit six ways to Sunday or strangle the living shit out of the bad situation.

It goes without saying that we all have to deal with negative emotions at work sometimes, and learning how to cope with these feelings is important. Identify the causes of your negative emotions and which types of feelings you often face so that the next time those emotions threaten to appear, you will know when to interrupt the cycle. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to pull yourself away from negative thinking. And now, I’d have to take this key information and advice and apply them to my life.

Book Review: The Cupid Effect by Dorothy Koomson.

Blurb on Goodreads:

Ceri D’Altroy watches too much Oprah Winfrey – and it’s having serious repercussions. Bored with London life and writing yet another ‘have the perfect orgasm’ feature, she’s decided to take Oprah’s advice and follow her heart’s desire. Going back to college might not be everyone’s dream but all Ceri’s has ever wanted to do is lecture . . .

Unfortunately, Ceri’s new start seems to involve disrupting lives: within days she’s reunited a happily uncoupled couple, encouraged her new flatmate to do something about his unrequited love, and outed the secret relationship of her two colleagues. Only, while Ceri’s playing Cupid for others, the highlight of her social calendar is trying a new hair conditioner. Something needs to be done, but can Ceri stick to her vow to give up her accidental matchmaking for good. . ?

A delicious comedy about love, life and following your heart…

the-cupid-effect-by-dorothy-koomson-goodreads

No. of pages: 352 pages

Publisher: Sphere

Year: August 2, 2007

Setting: London, Leeds

The Cupid Effect is the final book written by Dorothy Koomson that I’ve read and well, I think I’ve read one too many books by her. It’s not that I hate her books, but I think I’ve gone a tad overboard with the whole Koomson marathon. And yes, I am a little relieved that I’m finally done with all her books. Now I’ve started yet another author marathon – books by Cathy Kelly. But that’s a story for another day. Today, I want to talk about The Cupid Effect and how it made me feel at the end of the last page.

The author Dorothy Koomson has a dedicated website for all her titles so you can go to it and find out more about her other books. You can click on her name to get to her page.

About The Book

This is the fourth Dorothy Koomson book that I have read in the first two months of 2017 alone. Lent to me by a close childhood friend, I never thought I’d go back to the years when I used to read light romance and chick-lit. I was a little skeptical on reading books of this category because of the wimpy and sappy atmosphere. It does resemble reality but by a far stretch and some incidents can be somewhat mind-boggling.

This novel, however, is completely chick lit. It has the full package of romance, sex, love, friendship, drama and betrayal… everything! Whatever you want in a chick literature novel, you got it.

The protagonist is Ceresis ‘Ceri’ D’Altroy (somewhat appropriate since the book is about the concept of a modern-day Cupid and Ceri’s name apparently means heart’s desire). Ceri has been watching a lot of Oprah Winfrey shows lately in London and after one too many episodes, she decides to up and leave her cushy job and flat to follow her heart and move to Leeds to become a lecturer and researcher. That is indeed quite a big leap as this isn’t something that could happen comfortably in reality and certainly not without its relevant circumstances. Prior to leaving for Leeds, she made an oath to never get involved in other people’s lives. You know how easy it is to make the promises but keeping them is another matter altogether.

Within moments of moving to Leeds, her oaths were quickly broken and soon she found herself doing exactly what she had forbade herself to do. She eventually finds herself doling out advice to both her new flatmates, Jake and Ed, as well as her colleagues in the college that she was lecturing and researching at. If her new start isn’t as different as her life back in London, how is she ever going to break the spell and move on with her own life instead? Also the question is, why is she the person whom everyone turns to for advice or help in their lives? Will she ever learn NOT to dish out advice?

What I Thought

After reading this book, I kind of had mixed feelings about it. As I mentioned, the book is wholly and entirely chick lit. In fact, most of Koomson’s books were all in the same category except The Ice Cream Girls since that was more on the psychological effects of child abuse, child grooming and paedophilia.

My mixed feelings came from how the plot was delivered. There was hardly any mystery to it and I could tell who’s going to end up with whom, how and why. Predictable, that’s what it was. Predictable and not as much suspense as I thought. Maybe that’s why I stopped reading chick lit when I grew up. I needed books with stimulating content, storylines with substance, plots that thickened (like a bowl of oats that ended up cooling down because you didn’t eat it quick enough) and made you think, characters that supported the whole ‘don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover’ phrase. But hey, since the book was free, why not?

When it came to the characters, I found the female protagonist Ceri D’Altroy a little self-obsessed while the rest of the supporting cast had common social ailments yet unable to handle them well. One night stands, petty separations and falling for a girl whom you just met are really just common social ailments which can be solved with open and honest communication. But for the sake of it being in a book, I suppose the author had to fluff it up a bit. Ceri, on the other hand, ended up spending most of her adult life helping others and while she brought this upon herself, I’m still surprised she was moaning and groaning a lot about it. Again, I know, it’s just a book. Still, it’s like the endless television dramas like Days Of Our Lives where the drama and betrayal scenes were given a social injection to plump it up for the viewers’ sake.

What I found different about the book and quite refreshing actually, was the exchange of Star Trek references by Ceri and the Staring Man a.k.a. Bosley (yes, the Charlie’s Angels Bosley) a.k.a. Angel (finally, Ceri’s very own Angel who is not in the television series Buffy: The Vampire Slayer – I’m even more amazed that the author had used this in the book!).

But while I found certain parts of it annoying, there are the bits and bobs that were pretty okay. For one, despite my earlier rants about the plot being substance-less, it is still a lighter read compared to the ones I just read with The Ice Cream Girls being the heaviest. It was a lot less serious too. And I never thought there was such a concept as a modern-day Cupid. I thought people just dished out advice like how I used to do with friends back in my college days whenever they came to me with friendship or relationship problems, and they could either heed your advice or not.

Ultimately, the phrase of not judging a book by its cover rings all too well throughout the book. From Chapter One all the way until the very last page, it was like a fireworks of emotions. Also, whether Ceri actually had a hand in messing about with other people’s lives or not, I still think that things do happen for a reason and if people aren’t careful, these same things can change in a blink of an eye.

Book Review: Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson.

Blurb on Goodreads:

Nova will do anything for her closest friend, Mal, whom she has known since childhood. So when Mal and his wife, Stephanie, ask Nova to be a surrogate mother, she agrees—despite her reservations about what it might mean for their friendship. Then Nova’s fears are realized. Halfway through the pregnancy, Stephanie finds a text from her husband to Nova that reads “Goodnight, beautiful.” Already suspicious of their deep connection, Stephanie demands that Mal cut all ties to Nova and their unborn baby, leaving Nova to raise the child alone.

Eight years later, Nova is anxiously waiting for her son, Leo, to wake up from a coma, while childless Stephanie is desperately trying to save her failing marriage. Despite her anger and hurt, Nova wants Mal to have the chance to know his son before it’s too late. Will it take a tragedy to remind them all how much they mean to one another?

goodnight-beautiful-dorothy-koomson-goodreads

No. of pages: 433 pages

Publisher: Sphere

Year: February 4th, 2008

Setting: Leeds, London

It has been a good Dorothy Koomson marathon with the first ever book I’ve read by her being The Chocolate Run, followed by The Ice Cream Girls, and the last one being The Cupid Effect which I’m halfway in now and will likely blog about it the following weekend if I’m able to finish reading it by then.

Goodnight, Beautiful has been the most heart-reading and emotional book I’ve read compared to the previous two books by her. And the book kicked off with the main character’s son lying in hospital after a surgery-induced coma on a brain aneurysm. Just for soul’s sake, a friend’s mother had passed away from brain aneurysm late last year so having ro read again on the aneurysm thing made me feel kind of sad.

Dorothy Koomson has made herself a name in my home library as an author who doesn’t shy away from reality and the difficult subjects that life throws at us. Goodnight, Beautiful touches on the kind of tragedy that affects real people in the real world, including but not limited to pregnancy, jealousy and the fear of having a child in a coma.

About The Story

The book is centred mostly around the lives of two female characters: Nova Kumalisi and Stephanie Wacken. Nova is Malvolio ‘Mal’ Wacken’s best friend since childhood while Stephanie is Mal’s wife. Nova had always thought she and Mal had something going on but neither wanted to broach the subject for fear of affecting their friendship. Mal eventually met Stephanie and got married, despite knowing she would be unable to have children.

The book tells of Nova’s and Stephanie’s experiences and how it affected them as they grew up, and lends us an insight as to why they behaved and acted the way they did. I wouldn’t blame you for choosing a side, though, and it also depends on whose side you’re on. I took Nova’s side mostly because I’d been in her shoes once upon a time (minus the getting pregnant part) and I hated Stephanie with gusto because I’ve met people like her and had friends like her. To me, Stephanie was an evil witch, someone with a sad past who would readily use it as an excuse to her behaviour but not enough to say that it justifies her behaviour and actions.

Since Stephanie was unable to bear children, Mal decided to ask his best friend Nova to be a surrogate mother. Nova had concerns about the matter but seeing how close she was to Mal during their growing-up years, she didn’t think twice about it and agreed to it. But when Stephanie discovers a text in Mal’s phone, simply saying, “Goodnight, beautiful” to Nova. she felt a twinge of jealousy growing in her chest and delivered the ultimatum to Mal: that he will have to choose between his wife, and Nova and the baby without so much of giving him a proper reason. Eight years on, Nova had kept the baby, named him Leo and married a policeman and ex-Army personnel named Keith. Life, however, deals a horrible blow to Nova. Leo had been involved in an accident which resulted in him suffering from a brain aneurysm and had to undergo surgery. The surgery left him in a coma in hospital for weeks and Nova is only praying for her son’s recovery.

What I Thought

Despite everything; the sadness, the heartbreaking moments, the tears… I still believe that Goodnight, Beautiful was a bitter-sweet enjoyable read. I mean, yes, we could all do without the pain but the book was still so touching, right until the very end. I loved the characters (well, except Stephanie) and the storyline was so gripping and realistic! I could almost feel myself standing at Mal’s side, smacking him upside on the back of his head for letting Nova go without so much of a fight. What a wuss. But the master behind all this is the author. Koomson is an amazing writer and her books have always moved me, even the previous two that I read.

She explored the areas of jealousy and what it can do to your relationships, what effect surrogate motherhood can have on the person carrying the child and those around them, and how having a child in a coma can effect your entire world. It was a beautiful book no doubt and Koomson wrote it very well. The depths she dove in allowed the book to have meaning and substance. From the first page itself, I felt the book grabbing me by the throat and threatening not to let go. Each time I finished a chapter, I was too curious to want to put it down because I kept wanting to know what’s going to happen next. I find that not many books can do that to me. It’s definitely unlike The Chocolate RunThe Ice Cream Girls and The Cupid Effect (which I’m reading now) where all three tend to be pretty angsty at times.

So would I recommend this book? Yes, definitely! Although I’d warn you to prepare a box of tissues in advance if you are the type to break down easily at a drop of a hat. Also, don’t bother expecting any sort of romance here because when there is a hint of it, you might just want to throttle Stephanie for spoiling everything.