Tag: Romance

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 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: 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.

Book Review: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.

my-cousin-rachel-by-daphne-du-maurierType: Paperback, 335 pages

Publisher: Virago, May 1, 2013 (first published in 1951)

Original Title: My Cousin Rachel

Characters: Philip Ashley, Ambrose Ashley, Rachel Ashley, Signor Rainaldi, Nicholas Kendall, Louise Kendall, Father Pasco, Mrs Pascoe, Mary Pascoe, Seecombe, Tamlyn, and Wellington.

So, here I am, back again with yet another book review. This time, it’s of a mystery, Gothic romance set in Cornwall. Let me briefly tell you what the book was all about before I proceed with sharing my thoughts and opinions of the book.

My Cousin Rachel tells the tale of a young orphan boy by the name of Philip Ashley who became the sole heir of the estates, wealth and fortune that his older cousin, Ambrose, had left behind after his mysterious death while vacationing in Florence, Rome. Philip had suspected that Ambrose’s wife was the guilty party in his death along with the help of her dear friend, the surly Signor Rainaldi. Philip was pretty darn sure that all would have gone smoothly had it not been for his cousin’s failing health and a doctor’s medical advice for him to leave London due to the clammy weather. Ambrose had gone to Florence and would stay there until his health improved. During his stay in Florence, however, he met a distant cousin by the name of Rachel and within a short time, they got married. Much to Philip’s chagrin.

 Synopsis by Goodreads:

I threw the piece of paper on the fire. She saw it burn…

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will come to love his grand house as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two have constructed is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. 

In almost no time at all, the new widow – Philip’s cousin Rachel – turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet… might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death?

The thing is, Philip did not have any proof of Rachel’s involvement in his death, save for a few disturbing letters that Ambrose had mailed to him over the course of his stay in Florence. And being the only one whom the letters were addressed to, Philip was the sole witness of his cousin’s suffering at the hands of their distant cousin. Anger and hatred boiled and bubbled in his blood, a deafening roar in his ears when he learnt of his cousin’s death. It made matters worse when Rachel had announced that she was coming to London for a while and possibly stay with either Philip or his godfather, Nicholas Kendall, for the time being. Philip could barely come to terms with his cousin leaving him for Florence, then getting married, and then dying without a trace or proof as to how he died.

It had been a rather intriguing story from the start, with me being thrust into the cobwebs of distrust, lies and deceit so early on in the book. Questions of how Ambrose died and who might have had a hand in his death had already flooded my mind, but it was too early in the first half of the book to tell if there really had been any clues leading to his death. One could clearly tell, however, that there were striking similarities between Ambrose and his young cousin and heir, Philip. Which sort of made me wonder if they were as innocent in the first place. Still, it had been too early to tell.

But as I carried on reading, I realised that while there were no indications as to whether Rachel was truly the guilty party or not, the manners of a petulant child were starting to arise in the form of the 24-year-old Philip Ashley. His actions as a gentleman left much to be desired. He was either blind to the nature of women, as Louise Kendall, his childhood friend and daughter of his godfather, puts it, or he was just a bull-headed boy with far too much ego. For someone approaching his mid-twenties, he sure was one hell of a spoilt brat! Perhaps, like Rachel had insinuated somewhere in the book, Philip just never saw enough of the world but really, some of the things he’d done in the book were just brought on by impulse. It made him appear naive and foolish.

Eventually, I got to a point where relief was just another 5 chapters to go before I was done with the book. I couldn’t wait, though, to find out if either Rachel was telling the truth or whether Philip had seriously gone out of his mind. A cloying young Englishman, spoilt, bratty and arrogant, acting like a child. I felt so tempted to reach into the pages and smack him upside behind the head. He was neither a man nor a child. He was, by far, the most foolish and idiotic person. Here’s another scene depicting his foolishness when instead of asking for a birthday present like any normal and sane person would do, he decides to give away his entire wealth and estate to a woman he barely knew. Nothing Louise said could break him out of his reverie.

Throughout the entire book, the reader would constantly question if Ambrose Ashley was to blame for his self-centeredness and arrogant ways and mistreatment of Rachel, or was Philip Ashley just to blind-sided to see things for what they are and not for what he thinks they are, or was their cousin Rachel really to blame for her treacherous ways. But one could question the possibility of whether she had done it in an act of self-defense or that she had planned on killing him for his vast fortune.

These were the questions for which even I did not have the answers to:

  • Did he really die from a mysterious illness to the brain?
  • Or was he poisoned as he believed himself to have been done in at the hands of Rachel?
  • Had Philip really planned on leaving Rachel approach death without warning her of the unfinished bridge?
  • And who was this Signor Rainaldi who never left Rachel’s side?
  • Was he the perpetrator behind Rachel’s plans?

After all the author had not made any assumptions nor given any conclusions. But she did leave enough room for her readers to constantly ask themselves, “Who was the guilty party?” It was left to the understanding of the reader.

By the way, did you know that the book, My Cousin Rachel, had also been made into a movie in 1953? Directed by Henry Koster, the film had starred Olivia De Havilland as the titular character, Rachel, with a very young Richard Burton as Philip Ashley. You can view the movie trailer here on YouTube.

Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

9780099592532I’ve seen this book making its round on Tumblr for quite awhile and I figured that it must be a pretty good book, considering how so many people all over the world have begun reading it.

So I started searching for it online and found that MPH Online had stock of this title. A click or two later and the book was being prepared to be shipped over to my place of residence.

I don’t usually buy books online, but when I do, it must be good enough for me to want it. When it finally arrived in my mailbox, I couldn’t wait to get started. After all, it did look rather tempting from what little I could siphon off the back of the book cover, and the front cover’s design of the word ‘Fates’ being among the flowers and ‘Furies’ being among the thorns.

Fast forward a few weeks later to this very morning after I was rudely awakened by a power cut in our condo. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I stayed up reading the last five chapters until the end and learnt that this has got to be the most complicated and convoluted story I have ever read. Coming back to my mentioning of the front cover design, now I will tell you what the correlation is between the fates and the furies.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff was the first half of the book told of a marriage between two young lovers who met and tied the knot only after two weeks of meeting one another.

Every story has two sides.
Every relationship has two perspectives.
And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.

Fates was the story of Lancelot ‘Lotto’ Satterwhite whose point of view of his marriage to Mathilde Yolde was as rosy as the fresh blooms of spring, and as joyous as the first day on a white and snowy Christmas. His side told of happiness when he first met her, the sex he had with her, the gratitude and thankfulness that he felt having her as his wife. He had naively believed that she was pure; an angel sent from Heaven to be by his side through thick and thin. I don’t blame him. After all, as a reader upon reading his side of the story, I thoroughly believed the same.

It was only after I finished reading ‘Fates’ that upon entering the double doors of darkness in Mathilde’s life that I realised I had thrown caution to the wind and thought that their marriage was one of unity and faith. Furies kicked off with the bad news of Lotto’s passing which was never mentioned on the last few pages of his life in the part of Fates. We only learn that Lotto has passed away, leaving his wealth and inheritance to his wife, Mathilde. And now we take a journey to the grimy underworld (literally, if you’ve read what her life was really all about) to learn the truth about Mathilde.

She was neither a hired assassin, nor was she a witch dabbling in dark arts. She just wasn’t your average girl-next-door. She had no friends when she was young. She was abandoned by her parents at her grandparents’ home after a freak accident involving her baby brother, whom she had deliberately meant to harm. Later on, we’ll learn that she had to stand on her own two feet at a tender age of 14, do what she thought was best for her and grow an outer layer of toughness to survive in harsh reality. There were many things tied to her past that she did not share with Lotto. She only showed him what she felt he, and their friends, were entitled to know.

Fates and Furies had been a magical ride for me. Lauren Groff had been poetic in her writing style and waxed lyrical with each word, sentence and paragraph. There had been instances of relatability to famous quotes and phrases from the world of stage plays and theater. Groff’s insightful portrayal of marriage between Lotto and Mathilde had been even more complex than it first appeared. She skillfully strummed the vibrant tunes of love, devotion and annoyance that made up the basis of any real marriage.

I had to pay close attention to what I was reading as the developments would sometimes seem irrelevant or vaguely unreasonable in the first half of the book, yet somehow start being apparently revelatory in the second half. Even before I reached the end of the book, I began to flipped back and re-read the chapters that I’ve already covered. It was indeed a masterful tale of marriage and secrets. Everyone has secrets. It only becomes a burden when these secrets become everyone’s problem.

If you thought that these disclosures and reversals had been piled on a bit too thick, well, they kind of make up for a dizzying ride that will shake your confidence in what you think you know about your spouse — and yourself. It was a book that challenged my beliefs, critiqued my thoughts, and questioned the norm of marriages and what are they really made of.

For a different and more comprehensive version of the Fates and Furies book review, you can go to The Nature of Things. Now I shall keep calm and carry on with my next book, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie.