Something to mull over...


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No such thing as "No strings attached" - White Lies by Susan Barrett



I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

This is my first time to read a Susan Barrett book, but I enjoy psychological thrillers and dramas, so I accepted the review request.  It is a relatively short book as far as number of words.  However, the acceleration of emotional tension is immediate, and it turned out to be an intense and fully immersive reading experience, that it really did not feel like a short read.

The story revolves around a central complicated character – Beth.  She has had a hard, sad and depressing life, which she narrates via her thoughts, as she sits and waits as a guest at a wedding. She’s had two kids given up for adoption.  The circumstances of each adoption are individually heart-wrenching, so I do feel the depth of her emotions.  The wedding she is attending is that of her second child, Tess.  Beth had the chance to know Tess, so there is some level of relationship there.  However, as with all dark paths of life would have it, Beth has an ominous feeling that the groom-to-be, Michael, is actually her first child.  The thought of this possibility, and the convoluted mix of ugly relationships and events in her life, is what eats up Beth’s thoughts in anticipation of the actual wedding ceremony.  Should she speak up her fears and concerns?  What is the best thing to do in this situation?  

Beth’s life is just sad, and because of the way she recounted her past, I couldn’t help as a reader but be depressed.  I hated the abusers and co-dependents in her life.  I felt indignant about the disconnected parenting that she received.  Note that the story also expounded on the life and emotions of Liz, the adoptive mom of Tess, as well as the journey of Tess herself.  I “understood” their own life dramas and line of thinking, but I felt deeper for Beth.  The author, Barrett, is an excellent psychological writer.  She surely had a way of keeping me engaged with each character.

So basically, this story paints a fuller picture of the emotional intricacies of adoption.  I have an adopted brother, but he isn’t much of an emo kind of person.  However, this book makes me think outside of the obvious, and I wonder how much of his own knowledge of his adoption has affected his own life decisions.  I wonder how he really feels about everything and everyone involved.  I don’t necessarily want to go down the path of unearthing his deep-seated emotions, but should we cross that bridge, I hope I can navigate the interaction with compassion, empathy and a whole lot of sensitivity.

This is a life story, so there is no neat conclusion with every loose end tied up.  There is still a lot to think about.  Kudos to the author for creating a good, thought-provoking and book-club-material book.

My main takeaway:  Sometimes we feel like we can sweep things under the rug, accept and forget, and move on with life.  Sometimes we feel like partial versions of the truth are more considerate of people and situations, and that “all’s well and that ends well” is a good compromise.  However, truths about human relationships and interactions are never just one time events with a definite cut-off point.  “No strings attached” when it comes to relationships are never quite true.

This is definitely not airplane reading material.  This is good for a rainy day, when one just wants to soak in a bathtub of emotions.  You do get to “experience” the power of emotions, and your heart feels alive.  Passion and anger aren’t distant as you read this book.  It is not an easy read.  But the impact on me is more on gratefulness, and a resolve to be a connected parent to my kids.  

I personally will not recommend it to just anyone.  But I will recommend it to those that I know will grow from this reading experience, as I think I did.

Friday, March 31, 2017

James Clyde - a fantasy involving other worlds, kingdoms, forests, betrayals and magic diamonds!



My kids (grades 5 and 7) and I had the privilege of receiving a review copy of this book.  Our first impression was that this would be a typical grade school fantasy book - the cover seemed to indicate that this was a story for young children, since the illustrated boy looked like a 9-yr old in his pajama robe.  However, the positive reviews seemed to imply otherwise.  Upon reading it in full, we conclude that it is an age appropriate middle school book for 10-12 year old kids.  It had a few violent scenes (think of knight battles vs. forces of evil) but there were none of the tricky romantic innuendos.

This is a well narrated fantasy story which involves other worlds, kingdoms, forests, betrayals and magic diamonds.  The story moves quite fast, and there are questions that popped up in our minds as we read along.  Some of these questions are addressed later on due to the way the story timeline is structured.  However, there are a few that almost seem to refer to a basic understanding of the history behind the other worlds.  These are mentioned as myths or stories passed on through time, but we are unfamiliar with them.  The questions didn’t really impede the flow and excitement of the story, so we were able to read at a fairly fast pace.  There are elements of wonder and delight which are rare in most books nowadays.  The courage and bravado of James is impressive and believable.  We cannot disclose much since it may spoil the plot, but for those fond of comparisons, we felt a little bit of LOTR here, escape to witch mountain, knights of the round table and peter pan.  He he he - did I confuse you with this mash up - well, you will understand when you read it yourself.

Be advised beforehand that this is meant to be a series, given the open-ended conclusion.  There is an initial victory won, but it is far from being the end of the war between James and his family’s enemies.  Given the excellent writing style and clean content, we look forward to the rest of the story unfold.

Recommended for parents and kids who enjoy reading books together as part of family time.  

Available in Amazon.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Insane in the membrane witty antihero - Harley Quinn Vol. I: Die Laughing



I never really paid much attention to Harley Quinn in the past.  I just know that a close friend of mine dressed up as her character last Halloween.  Well, in this graphic novel, she is absolutely nuts, unpredictable, impulsive, brave, smart and outrageous.  I loved the back story, but I enjoyed even more the story of the alien-minced meat that transformed everyone into flesh-hungry entities aka zombies.  Great art work, witty banter, and cohesive storyline.  Highly recommended.


Graphic novel provided for review purposes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#davinci #tesla #alias #raidersofthelostark #moses #arkofthecovenant



I know it is bad to do comparisons, but I am going to do it anyway.  The story tackles a new angle to the Da Vinci – Tesla lore on the science behind weather manipulation.  It is geeky-exciting in that regard.  On top of that, Scriptural references to the Ark of the Covenant is layered in, extending the line of Moses and the Levites to the present day.  It is archaeologically-curious in this aspect.  The pace is similar to Dan Brown’s fiction, the international secret intelligence landscape is similar to Ludlum’s global conspiracy web.  The action reminds me of JJ Abrams’ Alias and Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Too much?  It is a matter of preference.  Personally, I enjoyed it.  It was a fun and exciting read that I highly recommend for a nice weekend.


Review copy provided by Net Galley.

Excellent Holmes spin-off graphic novel for kids



Well done!  Again, another wonderful spin-off from Sherlock Holmes.  This time around, this graphic novel centers on the street kids whom Holmes utilizes as his “eyes and ears”.  The mysteries are solved by the kids themselves, given that Holmes is often out of town on other assignments.  The illustrations are top-notch and the storyline sufficiently exciting and action-packed.  The only suggestion I have is to make the arrows of the speech balloons straight instead of lightning-jagged.  It was a little distracting.  I do look forward to the rest of the series as they are published.

Review copy provided by Net Galley.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Healing Room - If it seems too good to be true, it probably is



The concept of the healing room is premised on the opportunity to be able to hear messages from dearly departed ones through a portal located in the corporate office of a non-profit organization. And that is where the skeptics come in.  Non-profit?  For such an elaborate and other-worldly experience? Well how is this entire “service” financed?

I loved this story, and I am impressed by the storyteller.  The entire book is written from the perspective of two young adults – one non-conforming seventeen year old girl and one Latino college graduate.  The tone is realistic, and the mortal imperfections of the main characters are not swept underneath the rug.  The build-up was gradual and smooth, and the climax held my attention.  The only criticism I have is that the later uncovered antagonists didn’t seem as sharp as they were portrayed to be in the earlier part of the book.  Nonetheless, I got my fix of good vs. evil, and the victory of the unlikely heroes.

There are a few shockers dropped here and there, so I do have to mention that this book is for older teens, and of course the rest of us adults.

I received a review copy and I savored every reading moment I had with this book.  Recommended.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ever Wonder What Happens to Sperm-Donor Siblings?



You should totally read this book.  It has a fresh concept and theme and the humor is spot on.  I cannot count the number of time I silently laughed while reading this during my train rides.  The main characters are young teens, so expect a lot of current wit, dry humor and sarcasm, but beneath this exterior is a lot of heart.  The book is also unafraid to use as a backdrop a couple of households with two moms.  While this could have been uncomfortable, the authenticity of the love between the moms and their children was unflappable, even in the face of complications brought about by the sperm donor and half-siblings situation.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I am impressed as well by the maturity of the donor offspring, as demonstrated towards the end of the story.  If this is a sign of fresh material to come in 2017, then I am fully committed to a great year of reading and reviewing.

Thanks to NetGalley and the author for the ARC. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Peddler's Road - where Hansel and Gretel visit Neverland!



I am a dad of my own now, but back when I was a kid, my early exposure to literature and music included nursery rhymes, fairy tales and Christmas songs. So any trivia game that involves these, I will likely know the answer. Since there are a lot of fairy tale retellings nowadays, I am enjoying my responsibility to pre-screen books that I pass on to my pre-teens by reading them first. Some I disapprove of (like children's stories made excessively dark and gruesome) and some I am delighted with. I am happily delighted with Peddler's Road!

This colorful revision of the original Pied Piper's story is expansive and inclusive. The world it paints is graphically depicted in a map ala-Middle Earth. The main characters are the two kids of a professional archivist and researcher of fairy tales. But the interesting twist is that they meet the original 130 kids who were lured by the Pied Piper! How? You have to read the book to find out.

There are elements of Neverland here, as well as Hansel and Gretel, Raggedy Ann, Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood. The monsters here are the ones we somehow tend to concoct as kids, regardless of race or creed. The rats are given life-sized roles here, instead of being just pests.

I liked this enough that midway through, I allowed my daughter to read it hoping she could catch up with me. Well, she ended up finishing it a day before I did, and now she is in Book 2. If there is one thing I could complain of, it is the pricing of the trilogy. My daughter is absolutely thrilled that there are 3 books - that means she has something to look forward to next year when Book 3 comes out. I am shocked by how expensive Book 2 was, even the ebook version. Unfortunately, our library only has Book 1, which I had already bought for myself. I feel like I have been lured by the Pied Piper... and here I am, merrily trading my hard earned money just to hear more of the story... and the music.