Tag: Life

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.

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.

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.

Book Review: The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson.

the-chocolate-run-by-dorothy-koomson-goodreadsNo. of Pages: 419 pages

Date Published: February 7, 2008 (first published March 25, 2004)

Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group

Author’s Website: Dorothy Koomson

So here’s the other book from the same friend who loaned me The Stepmothers’ Support Group by Sam Baker. Actually, that’s the same friend who loaned me two bags full of books to make up for my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge (since I only have 15 with me now). This one is called The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson and you know what? After I finished the book, I realised how much it mirrored my life especially during my college years when I used to have a friend who was as bitchy and manipulative as Amber Salpone’s friend, Jenna Leigh Hartman.

Amber Salpone is not a chocoholic. She doesn’t gorge on chocolates nor does she bury her sorrows in packs of chocolates either. Amber is a chocolate sniffer; an individual who gets her kicks from sniffing chocolate, kind of like a glue sniffer, but she needs to her chocolate fix to think and make decisions. Amber compares everyone she meets to chocolate, from her boss Renee to Matt, her then best friend, Jenna’s boyfriend and fiance. Chocolate is a constant in her life, what we’d call her safety net. But she eventually learns that running to chocolate all the time is not always going to help her. As a reult of her commitment-phobic self, she has not been in a relationship for 18 months and she loves every moment of it. Yet, she cannot fathom why she is falling in love with Greg, her male best friend and epic womaniser! Curious, she decides to pursue this relationship with Greg, despite the barriers and personal issues. As she does so, she also realises that her best friend is slowly turning into a skinny, selfish and horrid person whom Amber doesn’t know anymore nor does she want to know either. There are some pretty dark secrets that Amber and her four friends harbour; secrets that threaten to tear apart what seemed like a great friendship. She will have to confront them one day and make her choices about who is her true friend and lover.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Amber Salpone doesn’t keen to keep ending up in bed with her friend Greg Walterson, but she can’t help herself. And every time it “just happens” their secret affair moves closer to being a real relationship, which is a big problem when he’s a womanizer and she’s a commitment-phone. While Amber struggles to accept her new feelings for Greg, she also realizes that her closeness to Jen, her best friend, is slipping away and the two of them are becoming virtual strangers. Slowly but surely, as the stark truths of all their lives are revealed, Amber has to confront the fact that chocolate can’t cure everything and sometimes running away isn’t an option… The Chocolate Run is a delectable tale of lust, love and chocolate.

About The Story

I liked the book to an extent, though like I said, it could probably be because it mirrored a lot of my life during my college years. This is my first book that I’m reading by this author and so far, it was a rather exciting and gripping tale. Each character had his or her story to tell and room to grow. The author wove the story in such a way that you would feel how the main character felt — when Amber was sad, you were sad too; and when her heart broke, so did yours. Renee and Martha, her work colleagues, were amazing supporting characters who added a dash of laughter, sarcasm and wit to the mix but were generally good people and probably better friends than Matt and Jenna.

Amber would have made a wonderful friend to Jenna had their relationship continued to go strong. However, beneath every greatness lies a deep, dark secret. Amber was damaged as an individual. Having survived her parents’ divorce, she was always running away from things that often looked like they had a capacity to hurt her and she couldn’t bear to think about the future. All she wanted was the ‘right here, right now’. She had what I had, a fight-or-flight response built into her and like yours truly, we both chose ‘flight’ as our response to when things got too tough for us. Eventually, however, it became frustrating to know that Amber was running away from some of the greatest things in her life but as a reader, I knew there was always a reason for her flaws.

But she did have someone else whom she could turn to when she was having an issue. That someone was Eric, her stepbrother whose dad fell in love and moved in with her mother. It was really interesting to read the many ways that Amber tried as she worked through her issues. Not just for Greg or with Greg but more so for herself. Despite being seen as strong on the outside, she was usually vulnerable and frightened on the inside. This book gave Amber more than enough space to grow from a meek individual into a strong and capable woman by the end of the novel.

As with every book, there was always someone setting himself or herself up to be hated and despised. In The Chocolate Run, it was Amber’s so-called best friend, Jenna. In fact, the more I read about her, the more she made me remember the friend whom I used to hang out with in college and hated every thing she did, the more I despised her! That’s what attracted me to the book in the first place. I’ve been in Amber’s situation before and I used to have a friend who started off being nice to me but eventually ended up as the most hypocritical person ever. Yet, no one could see this but me. That’s because she was great with others but when it came to me, oh boy, she could be downright critical and judgmental. I felt like a proud mother hen though when Amber realised what was really going on and how she dealt with the situation. She had more balls than me to end the friendship whereas I could not bring myself to tell the person that it was over between us. It felt extremely satisfying since I always hate it when a “bad” character in a book gets off with a caution or a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

What I Thought…

Personally, I thought that this was a very chocolatey story! It wasn’t too sweet and cliched for my liking. It just made me want to dive into a pot full of hot, smooth and silky melted chocolate. At first, when I learnt of how Greg Walterson was throwing himself at Amber, I thought, ‘Oh how lovely it must be to have a man throwing himself at you.‘ And not just any man, mind you, but a man who is a hit with the women yet he only wants to be with you.

Although, I believe alarm bells would go off in my head if I knew what sort of man he is: A serious womaniser. Would I still want to be with him? Would I trust him if he said he gave me his little black book and deleted all the women’s numbers in his mobile phone? Like I mentioned above, the book reminded me a lot about how I was always picking up after a friend who was too busy hooking up and getting hurt to realise how much of our friendship had been unravelled because of that. It was painful then and it is still painful now just thinking about it. The first question would be: Who comes first? Your best friend or your boyfriend? Assuming you knew both of them for around the same period of time. Then, the next question would be: What happens if your boyfriend thinks your best friend is taking you for granted but you don’t see it? What happens if your best friend thinks you’re abandoning her for your boyfriend? I know right?

Amber Salpone is a lot like me (and a lot of other girls or boys in this situation). We tend to overthink a lot and then get nauseous or headachey when things we thought so hard about began as trivial matters and ended up becoming big and complicated. But this is what reality is all about: Friendship torn apart by the drama and lust of love and relationships. It also reminds me of how much we value friendships to the point of being unable to choose between your significant other and your best friend. What we should have is a healthy balance of both, although more often than not, that’s easier said than done. But if I had a friend like Amber Salpone does in the book, I’d be more than ready to dump her and drop the friendship because with toxic friends like Jenna Hartman, you don’t need enemies.

Book Review: The Vacationers by Emma Straub.

the-vacationers-by-emma-straubType: Paperback, 293 pages

Publisher: Picador, June 5, 2014 (first published in 2014)

Setting: Mallorca, Spain

The Vacationers by Emma Straub is probably one of the few books that I’d buy on a whim online or at the bookstore. Simply because the book’s title may have appeared online as an ad in relation to something I’ve read before. And upon reading the synopsis at the back cover, I’d find that it has just enough value to grace the shelves in my home. Why I say this is due to the fact that I have never heard of Emma Straub before and I usually don’t go for these kind of books. Fiction yes, but not one with the entire emotional baggage, from adultery to betrayal, lies and more hidden secrets than the underwear in my wardrobe!

The Vacationers kicked off with the Post family packing and preparing for a two-week vacation in Mallorca, Spain. Franny Post, wife, mother and author by occupation, had planned the vacation for her family (her husband Jim and daughter Sylvia), her eldest son Bobby and his girlfriend Carmen who is at least ten years older than he is, and her gay best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence. The vacation was supposed to be one of merry times, sand, surf and sea, and laughter in the sun, a place and time to spend valuable moments with one another, despite the deep dark secrets that each of them harbour prior to the trip.

As is always the case, however, a book like this would have secrets and lies carried by each person which is enough to destroy everything that every one of them had built for themselves and for the other individual in their lives. Indeed it does.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

Franny Post was hiding the fact that her husband Jim had an affair with an intern as old as their daughter Sylvia. The act itself had caused a domino effect in Jim’s life, from the embarrassing confrontation with his company management board which led to his dismissal from the company to the icy cold treatments that his wife is giving him at home.  Thankfully, by the time the vacation ended, Jim and Franny’s marriage had seemed to be on the mend and they might just pull through after all.

Bobby is dating Carmen, a fitness freak and personal trainer at the gym where he trains. Despite his parents’ efforts to pay through their noses for his college education and showering him with even more attention than they did to their younger daughter Sylvia, his job at the gym involves selling muscle gain powder and trying to be a personal trainer just like Carmen. He initially had a job as a real estate agent in Miami but when the market started to dip, he tried to give being a trainer a shot. In a futile attempt to make fast cash, he eventually got involved in what seemed like a protein shake pyramid scheme that left him in a huge debt of $150,000 and he hardly made a cent. The duo occupy a part of the story almost entirely separate from all the other vacationers (literally). Although Carmen is always “seen” in her workout clothes, doing various exercises by the pool, she appears to be a kind and stable force in Bobby’s life which is a good thing. Sadly, this did not seem enough to be enough of a reason to be one of the family, probably because she is so much older than he is.

Hence, a part of Bobby’s agenda for the trip was to tell his parents that even at 28, he still needed help, particularly financial help. He had managed to avoid dealing with this until Carmen forced him to spill the beans one night during dinner. That had gotten the ball rolling, gave the story an interesting poke and all the seams began to fall apart. And when Bobby decided to go out clubbing in Mallorca, taking his sister Sylvia with him instead of Carmen, things take a turn for the worse. This eventually comes out and Carmen leaves him and Mallorca for good.

So far, Charles and Lawrence are the least problematic holiday-goers on the trip, although they aren’t actually off the hook either. Lawrence isn’t took keen on his husband Charles’ unnatural closeness with Franny but because they have been best friends for decades, he had no choice but to let it go and do his own thing instead. On a lighter and probably happier note, Charles and Lawrence are preparing to welcome baby Alphonse into their home, a baby boy they had adopted through the agency before they left for Mallorca. Sylvia joins the gay couple in the least problematic group, although she did have a crush on her Spanish tutor, Joan (pronounced ‘Jo-ahhhn’), and spent the entire novel trying to flirt with him in the most American way possible. I don’t blame Joan for having not noticed it from the start.

What I liked about the book was the melting pot of characters. Each one has a different personality and once these various personalities were thrown into the mix, it is kind of interesting to see how they try to live in peace under one roof. I know how that feels as I’ve lived in a townhouse with different people before when I was studying overseas and I’ll be frank with you, it was quite challenging trying to understand each person’s flaws and strengths and living with the flaws.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you’re boiling something on the stove and you don’t watch it closely, it will eventually boil over and make a mess in the kitchen which you’re not looking forward to cleaning up. If you’re already at loggerheads with someone and you have to go on a trip with that person, chances are something is going to flip and both of you will go for the jugular. So it’s good to keep a cool head on your shoulders and if you have to confront someone, do it wisely.

Although, it was to be expected that at some point, everyone would have to kiss and make up, forgive and forget, and move on with life. The Posts’ marriage was rocky right from the start but they managed to pull through. One way or another, someone will have to make a sacrifice and meet the other person halfway. Compromise. Ah yes, that’s the word.