Tag: Verdict

Book Review: Summer’s Child by Diane Chamberlain.

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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: 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.

Food Review: Epicuro Uptown.

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Another weekend, another cafe. My husband and I decided to try a different one this time. We’ve been to a number of new cafes, we have a list of our favourite joints, but we still have many more to go to.

So we chose Epicuro in Damansara Uptown (they happen to have another branch in USJ). The reason why I chose it was because they served waffles, and my husband loves waffles (oh, by the way, he loves pancakes too).

As with most cafes in Klang Valley, Epicuro had the dark and cozy atmosphere going for them as well. Dark brown woody interior and exterior, with metal chairs and square or rectangular wooden tables with small metal buckets as the utensils holder and menus neatly placed on either side in front of customers.

What was missing was the cheery pop of greetings. No “Hi, welcome!” or “Welcome to Epicuro!”. It felt like stepping into a library managed by a strict librarian! What’s worse was the waitress who took our order. She did not smile once, and there wasn’t a trace of enthusiasm in her voice either. That was a bad first impression for me.

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The atmosphere was pretty alright, good enough to read my book. There were other patrons in the cafe, but they were not too loud to distract me from my book. So, since they weren’t going to give me a hint of gratitude for giving them some business, I decided to read instead.

The first thing to arrive was my affogato. Presentation was simple. A small white jug of espresso and a tall martini of the dulce de leche (salted caramel) house-made ice cream. Already skeptical with the way the customer service went, I eyed my affogato warily and picked up the jug of espresso.

You can only guess what happened next. I feel the jug should be replaced because I could barely pour any espresso onto my ice cream without some of the liquid dribbling down the spout of the jug. It was ridiculous. That was another red mark on my mental clipboard of the place.

Thankfully, the affogato redeemed itself. Each spoonful resulted in burst of sweet and salty combination, and the strength of the bitter espresso melted along with it. It was good. Even my husband liked it, which is rare because it is hard to find things that he really enjoys. So for him to approve my affogato meant that it was good.

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The next dish that arrived was his order of hot wings. I was a little amused at seeing the chicken wings doused in what looked like spicy mayonnaise, chopped chilli, and herbs, with a side of greens in balsamic dressing? Maybe they were trying to please the diet freaks but salad and hot wings don’t really pair well, at least not to me. They should have come on its own. Or with a dip on the side.

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The last order was our waffles. We ordered a classic waffles with butter and maple syrup, and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Everything came as per described in the menu. My only bone of contention was the maple syrup. Why on earth would someone drizzle the syrup on to the plate with the waffles sitting on top? Shouldn’t the maple syrup be all over the waffles instead?

The texture of the waffles was good; soft and fluffy, with slightly crispy edges. They were warm and flavourful. Even though the waffles did fairly well, I was still grieving for what seemed like a lack of maple syrup. We could have asked for more, but for the price we paid, it didn’t seem worth it to be asking for more maple syrup. Maybe I should bring my own bottle next time.

Blogger’s Verdict

It was a pity that our experience was such a bad one. It could have been a good place, really. We weren’t expecting it to be super marvelous but it was a bit of a let-down, especially in terms of the food and the service.

The presentation of each meal was fine. They were Instagrammable but the hype just died there. The only thing that was worth mentioning was the affogato. Even then, the little jug of espresso needed to be fixed. It wouldn’t pour out properly and kept dribbling down the spout onto the table instead of the ice cream. It was really annoying.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, though, was the service. Did I mention that there were no cheery greetings when we came in? No smiles when our orders were taken either, and no “Thanks for coming!” wishes when we left. That was some pretty bad customer service. And the waitress looked like she wanted to chew our heads off! 😠 Terrible. Maybe they all had a bad day, but that doesn’t mean you could take it out on your customers.

Food Review: Flingstones Cafe.

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A three-day weekend is normally a time for me to go on a road trip or get busy with finding new cafes to visit. Or, it could just be a time for me to relax at home, gaming or reading. Sadly, I spent my long weekend hibernating because I had a mild fever. Mild yes, because my temperature was only a degree higher but not enough to book me a night in the ICU.

The long weekend came courtesy of Labour Day, which fell on Sunday, 1 May 2016, and the replacement day off is today, Monday, 2 May 2016. Because I had taken a medical leave on Friday, I had an even longer weekend to myself. Malaysia is famous for its many public holidays, and more often than not, they tend to fall on a Friday or a Monday and this gives its citizens an extra day over the weekend to relax.

Well, sick people have to eat too, and after being cooped up for two days at home, I felt it was time that I ventured outdoors for some fresh air. It didn’t have to be during the day as it was really hot then, but leaving the house at night even if it just for dinner was a big welcome.

Today, I bring you to Flingstones Cafe in SS15, Subang Jaya, located opposite Taylor’s College. How the cafe got its name, I didn’t ask. Parking is a hazard here because the lane is narrow with cars parked on both sides of the road, and it tends to jam up as well because there were other shops and restaurants along the same stretch.

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Most cafes in Klang Valley have a dark and woody exterior, and this one was no exemption either. They had outdoor seating for those who want to light up while having their meals and sipping their coffees, and indoor seating for those who want to escape the blistering heat (and the mushroom clouds of cigarette smoke).

Upon entering, my ears were assaulted by the noise of chatter and children screaming. This was actually a turn-off, mind you. I’ve been to quieter cafes and they have been pleasant experiences for me. But we were there to eat and we weren’t going to leave until we had our fill. There was nowhere we could sit and escape the ruckus, so we chose the bar seats near the entrance/exit where we could watch the world go by while we had our dinner. Not the best place, but it was the only available space in the cafe at that hour.

The menu carried a vast array of food, from your salads and soups, to sandwiches, rice, and pasta. Not to be left out, the beverage section had several options for the cafe diners too, such as hot or cold caffeine and non-caffeinated drinks, and desserts. The lips icon at the end of each menu item indicated the specialty and popularity of the dish.

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As usual, I went for the matcha latte. You could say that I’m on a personal mission. I intend to find the best cafe that serves a great cup of matcha latte. So far, Coffea Coffee is the only place that delivers a cozy cup of creamy matcha latte, not too thick and not too watered down.

Sadly, I did not find much joy in the matcha latte that Flingstones Cafe had. The matcha powdered foam on top had more ‘oomph’ than the entire beverage itself! The taste was too diluted, and by the time I drained my cup, I tasted more matcha powder than the flavoured latte. But it did make a wonderful photo (above).

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We had a very spaghetti night yesterday. I ordered the ‘KAPOWW’ kung po chicken spaghetti (above) and my husband had the chu yao char angel hair pasta (below). Both were a fusion of Asian and Western, and had very unique tastes.

The ‘KAPOWW’ kung po chicken recipe is actually a spicy, stir-fry dish made with chicken, cashew nuts, spring onions, and chilli peppers. This is a classic Szechuan dish which originated in the Szechuan Province of southwestern China and also includes Sichuan peppercorns. Imagine pairing this with spaghetti for that Western feel. My first forkful made me go, “Good gravy!”

The chu yao char angel hair pasta is actually fried pork lard with angel hair pasta. Add cherry tomatoes, bacon, and herbs, and you get a very Western-Asian combination that is pure genius! Similar to an olive oil-based aglio olio, except that this had pork in it. The taste was sensational. I helped myself to a couple of forkfuls, but I had to stop myself from polishing his plate as well as my own!

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Blogger’s Verdict

Just like the online recommendation, Flingstones Cafe stood up to its diners’ opinions and thumbs up for their pasta dishes. The lips icon was spot-on.

The food was good. Tasty and delicious. A delicate balance between Asian and Western without overloading your tastebuds and overriding your senses.

The service was prompt. Though, I can’t say whether they were friendly or not because it looked as though the smiles on the cafe staff’s faces were forced.

The atmosphere, however, left much to be desired. The cafe wasn’t a big place to begin with, and while it is a family-friendly place, it doesn’t excuse what happened on the night we went there. A family of six sat behind us, with a child who wouldn’t stop screaming.

I don’t hate children, but I hate that the parents were unable to control their child’s behaviour. I have to say that I’m very disappointed in the way some Malaysian parents bring up their children. I’m in no place nor position to dictate your style of upbringing, but this was a public place and it isn’t a playground. There are other diners in the cafe as well who would like to enjoy their food, scream-free.

Go there for the food, but don’t expect to eat in peace. Unless you have a pair of noise-cancellation headphones or just don’t go at peak hours.

Book Review: The Heart Whisperer.

Book Review Template

I used to stay up all night in my childhood bedroom of my parents’ house, desperately trying to finish reading a book. I would continue where I last stopped at 11:00pm, and carried on reading past midnight. By the time I was done with it and finally decided to sleep, it was 4:00am.

And now I have done it again. I’m back in my childhood bedroom, house-sitting for my parents, and just last night, I stayed up well into the night, reading The Heart Whisperer by Ella Griffin and desperately tried to finish it. I knew I was almost at the end with only a couple of chapters left. I wanted to know what happened at the end. Was it a happy ending or was it going to be a sad one?

Synopsis from Goodreads

Claire Dillon still lives in the shadow of the past. On her thirty-third birthday, she gives herself a present. One year to change her future.

Claire Dillon’s mother had everything to live for. A husband, two children, a successful medical practice. Then, at thirty-three, she died in a tragic accident. And it was Claire’s fault.

Now Claire is the same age. A floundering actress with a broken heart, a collection of draft snakes, and a talent for self-sabotage. She is frittering her life away with the help of her oldest friend, the gorgeous ex-rock star, Ray Devine.

On her 33rd birthday she gives herself one last year to be more like her mother. But you should be careful what you wish for …

Her estranged brother Nick is back from America and keeping his distance from his clingy sister and his pathetic father while he reinvents himself as a daytime TV relationship guru. But Dublin is full of memories and Nick is already dreaming of escape. While his wife Kelly, has dreams of her own. Ones she isn’t telling him about.

What will happen when another accident throws the dysfunctional Dillons together? And the secrets they have kept from themselves and one another finally begin to emerge?

The Heart Whisperer is yet another book written by an Irish author and set in Dublin, Ireland. The characters are similar to the ones in Cathy Kelly’s Homecoming (Irish author with Irish characters living in Ireland), with women and their painful pasts of being pregnant in their teens and having to either terminate the pregnancy or give their babies up for adoption. But the weight of this book was the heaviest to read. Let me count the ways for you.

Breakdown of Each Main Character

Claire Dillon was a struggling actress who lost her mother in a tragic accident, while her brother, Nick, brought her up after their mother died and their father was too distraught to lift a finger to help.

Nick Dillon eventually grew up and got out of the family home, got married, and got a job as a Couples Coach. Little did his clients know that Nick himself was having troubles in his marriage as his wife, Kelly, was eager to try for a baby and he felt that he wasn’t ready yet.

Ray Devine had been Claire’s best friend for the longest time, as well as an ex-rockstar who dropped out of fame after his band split up and its members going their separate ways. Ray has been trying ever since to reform the band or to write new songs but was unable to find the inspiration.

Eilish was Claire’s friend, and a single mother with an angsty teenager for a daughter. Yet she was always ready to help Claire when the time called for it, and despite the horrific accident which left Eilish with a broken nose and a horrible gash on her forehead (Claire had given these facial prizes to her friend during a filming of an ad), she never hated her.

These characters dominated much of the book, and had their background stories expanded to accommodate their lives and the pain that came with it. Claire struggled to get her life back together after she blamed herself for her mother’s death. Nick struggled to cope with the demands of his job on air and on TV to help other couples save their marriage and the eagerness of his wife to have a baby. Ray struggled to adapt to his stagnant lifestyle when a woman he had an affair with in the past when he was still famous said that she had given birth to a girl and he was the biological father. Eilish struggled to find something that could pay the bills and keep her afloat in the Irish economy, even if it meant working for someone she hadn’t initially thought she’d fancy in the first place.

Blogger’s Verdict

Personally, I don’t know how Irish authors do it but despite all the tears and sadness woven into their books, there was still space for a great sense of humour! From sarcasm to downright Irish wit. A sad story, this one was, but it had its funny moments and in the end, it was all’s well that ends well. Don’t you just love happy endings? I know I do! But I need to read more though. I’m six books behind in my 2016 Reading Challenge.