Tag: Family

Book Review: Summer’s Child by Diane Chamberlain.

summers-child-diane-chamberlain-goodreads

Let me tell you that this was the most complicated, most convoluted plot I have ever read in a book! Never mind that there were so many characters to keep track of but the story thickens as the book progresses!

Phew. I’m glad I got that off my chest!

But no, really, it was as thick as your mother’s homemade fresh seafood chowder. It was so thick that no amount of hot water or milk could ever dilute it!

Pardon the analogy but here, let me tell you why. Oh by the way, don’t be misled by the image above. I read the paperback version of it, not the Kindle one. I just like the design I created, is all. Til next time, and happy reading!

About The Book

At a glance, Summer’s Child might look like a story that centres around the life of an abandoned baby found by a young innocent child on a beach in Kill Devil Hills one blustery summer, which, in turn, affects the lives of the other occupants living on and around the beach. At least that is what it says on the back of the book. But upon reading the entire book, I came to learn that it doesn’t talk much about the abandoned child’s life; rather, it revolves more around the lives of the other characters, from Daria’s struggles with her past, her sister Chloe’s difficulties in coming to terms with her relationship with God and Father Macy, and her best friend Rory Taylor’s encounters with his past, present and (possibly) future.

At 22 years old, Shelly (the abandoned baby found on the beach all those years ago) is at her happiest when she takes her daily strolls along the seaside, collecting shells for her oceanic jewellery hobby and taking in the amazing atmosphere. Despite her happiness, despite the fact that she has a wonderful family who adopted her (Daria Cato, her sister Chloe and her parents) when no one came forward to claim her, she still felt as though something was missing. She wanted to know who her biological parents were and why had they left her on the beach. Shelly may be slightly handicapped but she’s one smart cookie; having managed to contact Rory Taylor (albeit without permission from Daria), the name and face behind True Life Stories, to investigate the events and find her birth mother. What Shelly doesn’t realise is that sometimes, the truth can hurt and the ripples caused can affect the lives of others in her life as well. The contacting of Rory comes as a two-pronged fork: Rory himself harbours a personal interest in Shelly’s story since he’d been one of the teenagers hanging out on the beach that summer. Daria, meanwhile, has been keeping her crush on Rory to herself for years, along with Shelly’s true story.

What I Thought

A lot of the dialogue throughout the book is a ping pong match between the “Should we look into the past to uncover the truth and secrets?” or “Should we just leave the past in the past?“. Thankfully, I didn’t lose interest in the book despite the circles Rory kept running around my head. For most of the book, apart from Rory’s “investigation” into the mystery of who had really abandoned the baby, there is also the focus on Daria’s family and love life as well as the lives of the other characters and how big a role each of them plays in accordance to Daria’s and Shelly’s. From the first chapter itself until the very last, many truths and secrets about the various characters were revealed throughout the book, with the characters questioning their existence and reasons for being around. It is interesting when you think about it, looking at the childhood friendships that were formed and how people changed over the years.

Imagine if you were one of them? What if you ran into someone whom you hadn’t seen in 15 to 20 years, would your perception of them change?

I love books like this that throw me into the deep end of the sea from the start. Though it does get rather unnerving when the whole truth isn’t out and it’s hard to decipher what’s really going on in the story. Even though I’ll probably only find out what’s what closer to the end of the book. But it’s not very often that books are so riveting to the point where I find it hard to put it down. From the time the baby was found to the time she’s 22 years old. The occuupants of Kill Devils Hill wants Shelly to be left alone, except Rory Taylor who is driven to find out who abandoned her on the beach 22 years ago, and why.

What a crazy, crazy story. Like I said, it was the most complicated and most convoluted story of all time. A baby who was found alive and abandoned on a beach eventually became someone’s daughter, adopted sister, granddaughter, half-sister, and then wife.

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.

Book Review: The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson.

Synopsis by Goodreads:

As teenagers Poppy Carlisle and Serena Gorringe were the only witnesses to a tragic event. Amid heated public debate, the two seemingly glamorous teens were dubbed ‘The Ice Cream Girls’ by the press and were dealt with by the courts.

Years later, having led very different lives, Poppy is keen to set the record straight about what really happened, while married mother-of-two Serena wants no one in her present to find out about her past. But some secrets will not stay buried – and if theirs is revealed, everything will become a living hell all over again…

the-ice-cream-girls-by-dorothy-koomson-goodreads

No. of pages: 452 pages

Publisher: Sphere

Year: 2010

Setting: Brighton

Scanning through the book spines in the two bags that my friend prepared for me, I stumbled upon this also by Dorothy Koomson. I thought, “Wow, what a pretty book! Look at all the pastel colours on the front cover!” Well, I’d tell you not to be fooled by it. Because it is NOT what you think it’s about. It is NOT a sweet story. The story gets under your skin and makes you shiver in disgust at the idea of how much the two poor girls were manhandled by a man whom they looked up to and who should have been looking after them instead of taking advantage of them. There, I’ve said it.

Now let me tell you what it’s really all about.

About The Book

I’ll give you a fair warning. Remember when I said up there not to judge a book by its cover? Yes, really, don’t. Just because it looks pretty on the outside doesn’t mean it’s sweet and lovely on the inside. Don’t get me wrong, though. Whatever the case the book may be, it still is a rather captivating and inducing read.

The story of The Ice Cream Girls was told in two voices: 15-year old teenagers, Poppy Carlisle and Serena Gorringe with each name on each chapter, intertwining one another. Both girls had fallen in love with their teacher Marcus Halnsley, who was a handsome and charming man. Little did the girls know that Marcus had a much darker and more sadistic side which he’d revealed to the girls once they were both smitten with him. One thing to remember though. Poppy and Serena were never friends. In fact, they hadn’t known either of them existed until he decided to introduce them to each other for his own devilish reasons. They had only been mere 15-year olds when they found themselves completely and utterly head over heels in love with Marcus, who had used his position and seniority to control, bully and manipulate them to do his bidding. He literally controlled their behaviours, thoughts and actions. He manipulated their feelings and emotions. He bullied and beat them up if he thought they were misbehaving. Despite the torture and the abuse, the two girls found it difficult to turn and walk away.

Until one night, they had enough and fought back. The consequences that followed were devastating. Being the only two witnesses to the tragic event, Poppy and Serena were arrested, charged and tried in court, and were vilified and scrutinised by the press and the public. A photograph of the girls were found, which had been taken and staged by Marcus before he died. The photograph showed them wearing tiny bikinis and eating ice cream, which led to society branding them as ‘The Ice Cream Girls’. A court session later and their lives took vastly different paths. Poppy Carlisle had been convicted of murder and sent to prison. Serena, however, had been found ‘not guilty’ and released to live her life. 20 years later, Poppy emerges from prison on parole and decides to set the record straight. She still believes that she’s innocent while Serena was the one with the murder charge on her head and was determined to make her confess. Serena, on the other hand, is not willing to set foot anywhere near her past and wants to let the past remain firmly that way, in the past.

Dorothy Koomson did a great job with the book. Having intertwined the chapters with each alternate one bearing Poppy’s or Serena’s name. It was a little challenging for me because I had to make sure I know what I was reading or I’d get confused over who’s done what. The book threw up some questions, thought, about their innocence and defence. I thought it was hard to believe that either girl had been a murderer although what they went through would be questionable to their actions. Perhaps the author hadn’t wanted to focus too much on the court and trial process; her direction was to tell a story on domestic violence, child abuse and emotional manipulation.

What I Thought

Despite all that, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. The plot draws you in from the very beginning and leaves you desperate to know what happened that fateful night and whether the killer would be revealed. It was a beautifully-written novel; part crime, part thriller, part romance (although the last bit is questionable – how could it be romance if the person whom you’re in love with turns out to be a sadistic monster who preys on the young and innocent for the sake of his pleasure?). The author was spot-on with her chilling tale of lost childhood, manipulation, brutality and betrayal. The story itself had been laden with tension right from the start and you fall for it, hook line and sinker!

The book got under my skin from the first chapter itself and I usually don’t stay up late trying to finish reading a book, but when I do, I make sure the following day is a public holiday. I finished it early this morning at 5:00am so I can be here to tell you all about it. It is, as I said, a painful story on domestic violence, child abuse and emotional manipulation at its best. Imagine you’re a teenager only to have your life torn apart and changed forever when you meet a man like Marcus Halnsley. Although in reality, relationships between teachers and students aren’t something new. But they do occur and when they do, they’re not a pretty sight. Imagine being physically, emotionally and mentally abused by someone whom you thought was supposed to protect you and take care of you! Instead, he grooms you to be what he wants to see and love; he takes advantage of your innocence; he forbids you to have a social life outside of your relationship with him. And when you decide to end the relationship, you know it won’t be easy. That was how it was for Poppy and Serena.

Things got tense and took a turn for the worse. When they realised what they have done, it was too late to take it back. If they had stayed, he would have survived. Yet, neither of them could bear to let him live for fear that he would then turn around and destroy their lives. But they wouldn’t have known that he would die under the hand of someone else. Someone near and dear to him. Someone much closer to him than the two girls ever were. For that, Poppy was misjudged, accused and wrongfully jailed for 20 years in prison while Serena never overcame the fear and anxiety caused unto her over the years.

What would YOU have done, if you were in either of the girl’s shoes?

Book Review: The Stepmothers’ Support Group by Sam Baker.

the-stepmothers-support-group-by-sam-baker-goodreadsNo. of Pages: 408 pages

Date Published: January 1, 2010 (first published August 20, 2009)

Publisher: HarperTorch

Setting: Present-day London

Alternative Title: The Other Mothers’ Club

Sorry for the long hiatus, guys. It has been a rather bumpy rollercoaster ride at the office and what with all the deadlines at work, I just couldn’t bring myself to do more writing at home. Also, because Chinese New Year is here and I just came back from a very eventful festive celebration and reunion at my dad’s hometown, I hadn’t been around to update my blog that much. But I do owe you all some book reviews now that I’ve finished two more books over the entire month of January.

The first of two books that I finished was The Stepmothers’ Support Group by Samantha ‘Sam’ Baker. To be honest, I never thought I’d actually read a book on parental guidance and children considering that I myself do not want any children (at the moment) nor do I feel ready to have any. But since this was loaned to me by a friend and recommended I guess, so I figured alright, why not I just give it a go?

And well, it wasn’t so bad after all.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

You can’t choose your family – but you can choose your friends! A heartfelt, warm and truthful novel about female friendship.

Eve has never imagined herself as a stepmother. But when she falls in love with Ian, he comes with a ready-made family of three children. And, to make matters worse, he’s a widower. The ghost of his glamorous and well known wife haunts them.

Clare, a teacher and single mother, is Eve’s best friend. She is the only person Eve can talk to about how on earth a journalist in her thirties can win round three wary children. But despite Clare’s years of practice with her own teenage daughter, it’s Lily, her younger sister, who provides the truly sympathetic ear.

Mel is sent along to Eve’s so-called ‘support group’ by a colleague. With a fledgling relationship and a new business to get off the ground, she has a very different set of pressures to the other women.

And Mandy is the stay-at-home mum, whose relationship comes with stepchildren, and who wants more than anything to stitch together a happy family life for herself, her kids and her new step-kids.

As a cup of coffee turns to a bottle of wine and the get-togethers become a regular fixture, conversations about new families evolve into ones about relationships, life and each woman’s deepest hopes and dreams. But the friendship is tested and feelings about lovers, husbands and step-children challenged when the five women are forced to confront new futures as well as unwelcome figures from the past…

About The Story

Personally, I’m in no position to talk about what it feels like to have a stepmother or about stepmothers in general since I come from a complete family. But from the way Hollywood portrays them and sometimes the media as well, it sounds as if stepmothers are a very bad lot and a wicked bunch of women hellbent on tearing apart the bonds between fathers and their children. But where Eve, Clare, Mandy, Melanie and Lily are concerned, there is no such thing as a wicked stepmother. And they are no wicked stepmonsters either. They are what you and me are in present time — different women from different backgrounds but with one thing in common: a stepmother link. They are either a stepmother already (Mandy), or want to be a stepmother (Melanie), or going to be a stepmother (Eve), or even had a stepmother in the past (Clare and Lily). Whatever it is, the stepmother persona had lingered over their heads.

The Stepmothers’ Support Group is an entertaining and poignant novel on what it means to form a family, become a parental figure, create new friendships and form attachments where you didn’t think was possible. The title of the book itself gives readers a clear idea on what they will read about in the novel. A chick-lit romance with kids thrown into the mix. The only difference is that the kids don’t often belong to both parents at once. I’m amazed that with so many families having step-parents and stepchildren, I’m surprised that it’s my first time coming across a book like this. Or perhaps there are others in the market but I never came across them.

What I Thought…

You don’t need to be a stepmother to enjoy a book like this and you don’t need to have children to understand the difficulties of being a parent. Just look around you; you are surrounded by strangers who are parents and your friends who have recently become parents. You just need to be a reader with the right set of emotions to enjoy this story of friendship, change and love.

The only thing I found ironic was like I mentioned above: I’m in no rush to have children nor do I feel like I want any (kudos to those who have and yes, I’m happy for you) but yet, here I am, reading this. And I did wonder if I’ll ever be ready to have one of my own. It’s on my mind but then again, so are many other things in life. Being a mother is a tough job but what happens if you’re a stepmother to someone else’s children? What if you had your own children from a previous marriage but you fall in love with someone else who also has his or her own children and all of you had to live under one roof? Oh boy. I also noticed one common theme in the book; that whenever there was a meeting, everyone would go to the nearest Starbucks, order coffees and exchange horror stepmother stories. Is Starbucks really that good?

So I thought the book kicked off a little slow at first but it wasn’t too bad once the action got in the way. I thought it was going to be another tearjerker novel with emergency alcohol and secrets on the forefront. But eventually the pace picked up a bit and things started falling into place, it started to look positive for the book too. And I guess when you think about it, stepmothers can be stepmonsters. Some of them though. Not everyone.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

1

So it was Christmas for us yesterday (it’s Boxing Day today for Malaysians as I write this blog post). I would have loved to update my blog much earlier but I was busy preparing my R&R for the long Christmas weekend. I wanted to make sure that I had enough time to do all the things that I enjoyed doing, like my reading, my typing on the typewriter, gaming and just plain relaxing at home.

Speaking of reading, I’m now on Odysseus: The Return, my 25th book for the year; the last book of my 2016 Goodreads Reading Challenge. Next year, I plan and hope to finish reading 30 books though seeing as trying to read 25 was already a challenge in itself, I’m not sure if I can really finish reading 30 books next year.

Now let’s see, what was my Christmas like…

I spent the first half of Christmas with my husband having a mixed sausage platter for lunch at Betty’s before leaving for Amcorp Mall to take a look at yet another typewriter. It was another portable, an Olympia Traveller De Luxe, just like the Antares 280 that I have now. The vital difference was the tension in the keys. It was much harder to type, which meant that I had to stab the keys with more strength. Nah, I wasn’t keen on that so I thanked the guy and allowed him to sell it to the next interested party. I’m falling more and more in love with my existing typewriter anyway so I didn’t see any point in getting another one.

My second half of Christmas was spent with my parents. We had a lovely dinner of roast chicken and stuffing, brussels sprouts, salad, buttered carrots, garlic bread, lamb, grilled salmon and roast potatoes… All of which we couldn’t finish. Which was fine anyway because my parents can have the leftovers as their meals the next day. We washed the food down with my mum’s homemade affogato. Everyone had the coffee version while I had the hot chocolate version. It was lovely!

How about you? How did you spend your Christmas?