Behind Closed Doors

behindcloseddoors

 

I discovered an author by the name of B A Paris by chance. Behind Closed Doors is a gripping tale.

As the title implies, there are things taking place secretly, without public knowledge. What happens is private and in a locked room.

The plot : Jack and Grace Angel seem to be the perfect couple. Jack is handsome, a loving husband and a highly successful lawyer who defends battered women; Grace is elegant and charming. They are never apart. Do they have the perfect marriage or are they living the perfect lie?

Grace is very attached to her younger sister Millie, who has Down Syndrome, but their parents are not as dedicated. Jack is sympathetic to the situation. He builds the house that Grace wants, and even buys them a lovely dog called Molly.

However, during their honeymoon in Thailand, Jack reveals his true self and intention to Grace. Jack is not the ideal husband that Grace had imagined him to be but becomes her keeper, guardian and jailer; he is a psychopathic who controls everything she does.

Grace is terrified of Jack and what he will do to her and Millie. He enjoys her  terror and fears and looks forward to accomplishing the evil when Millie comes to live with them. To this end, he has built a room in the basement that can only be opened from the outside…

The story is fast paced and there are many twists, especially the ending.  A really absorbing read! I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Paris’s other book, The Breakdown on my next visit to the library.

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Love Without Limits

lovewithoutlimits

Nick Vujicici is a motivational speaker who most recently visited Singapore in July 2016. (He had visited Singapore several times.) I did not deign to attend but have always been curious why tickets to his events are so highly-priced. So, cooped up at home for the last few days, I dug out this book –

Love Without Limits: A Remarkable Story of True Love Conquering All.

Born without limbs, Nick Vujicici has become an inspirational voice to people all around the world. He speaks on overcoming obstacles, never giving up, and how to find purpose of faith and hope. In this book, co-written with his wife Kanae, they tell how they improbably found each other, fell in love, and fought to overcome skepticism from others about their relationship. It tells of their courtship and the early years of their marriage and parenting journey. There are many photographs of them, alone and with their son.

The book contains 15 chapters, each with a message:

  1. Someone to Love – To be loved, you must feel worthy of love, and to be worthy of love, you must be willing to make sure you are deserving of this wondrous gift.
  2. The Search for Love – You may be in a sea of loneliness and heartache, but it will pass.
  3. Perfectly Imperfect Love – A most unlikely love story of a Serbian Australian man born without limbs who found love with a beautiful young woman of Japanese Mexican heritage. How could two people of such distant places and such different backgrounds find themselves cast together, caught in each other’s gaze, and felt such a powerful connection?
  4. The Spark – Initial impressions and feelings upon meeting their future spouse; Having a loving relationship and making it last through all the years of a marriage require emotional maturity; Life is messy. Love is too, but sometimes you have to fight for what you want.
  5. Daring to Trust the Heart – First, establish a friendship, which is critical to building a loving relationship.
  6. The Gift (Wrap) of Love – True love is reciprocal in that both want the best for each other; They want to make each other feel happy and secure in the relationship; there is no keeping score.
  7. The Proposal: Setting a Course for a Loving Marriage – Topics to discuss before the marriage proposal: family issues, spiritual beliefs, financial matters, relationship experiences, sensitive issues like different racial backgrounds, political preferences, disability, chronic illness, fears, concerns, insecurities, cultural considerations.
  8. Creating Wedding Day Memories (personal)
  9. The Joys of Abstinence before Marriage & Sex After Marriage (personal)
  10. When Two Become One – A Giving Marriage, dropping childish ways, baggage problems, a change in the game plan, time together, priority adjustment.
  11. We’re Having a Baby! – Journey from fears, insecurities and loneliness to marriage and, now, impending fatherhood. Every life is a gift. Every moment is yours to treasure. Suffering is part of life, but joy is available in abundance as well.
  12. OurLittle Explosion of Hope – Motherhood can be challenging, but the rewards make it worthwhile.
  13. The Family Plan – Dramatic changes that baby Kiyoshi brought to the household, daily life and relationship.
  14. Kanae and Me, and Kiyoshi makes Three – Getting married is the easy part. Becoming one in your moment-to-moment, daily life is what’s difficult. Before every decision you make, big or small,  you have to consider the input and the impact on the other person.
  15. Heart and Home – Your true home on earth is the heart. it’s a place where you aren’t judged or condemned or pressured by the expectation of others.

Another Woman’s Husband

anotherwomanshusband

 

There has been quite a lot of interest in the recent Royal Wedding because a Prince married a divorcee, not to mention the other attributes that seem not in line with the Royal Family. So it was with interest that I picked this book, because it is supposed to be about another scandal surrounding the British crown. I was particularly intrigued by the mention of Wallis Simpson and Princess Diana. I thought it would be an enthralling story that would reveal fascinating historical facts and enhance my understanding of what led to the British King’s abdication in 1936.

Another Woman’s Husband is told from two different viewpoints, more than eight decades apart, involving Wallis Simpson  (1911-1927) and Princess Diana (1997). The story starts when Rachel and her fiance Alex find themselves in a taxi right behind the car accident that claims the life of Princess Diana. Back in 1911, Mary Kirk meets Wallis Simpson at at summer camp. Wallis’ story is told through Mary.

I’ve heard of Wallis Simpson but I didn’t know much about her. Since the author, Gill Paul, had done extensive research before writing this novel, I took it that the facts are quite authentic and found Wallis a fascinating character.

It is amazing to me that the author is able to weave the stories of Wallis Simpson and Princess Diana’s death together. I hope to read Paul’s other novel, The Secret Wife (about a 1914 Russian grand duchess and a 2016 English journalist), soon.

Heartburn

heartburn

 

Heartburn is the only publication of Nora Ephron that I could find among the Fiction books in the library. Since I enjoyed the movies with screenplay she’d written and directed (such as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, I’ve Got Mail and Julie and Julia), I thought I might like this book.

The story: Rachel Samstat is a food writer married to Mark Feldman, a political journalist. They have a two-year-old son Sam. When Rachel is seven months pregnant with their second child, she discovers that Mark is in love with another woman. In between trying to win Mark back and loudly wishing him dead, Rachel offers some of her favourite recipes.

I didn’t quite like the book (especially the food part, since I hate cooking; maybe it would have been better if it was a movie so I could at least enjoy the visual effects), and luckily the book is under 200 pages (otherwise I would have abandoned it halfway). I also didn’t like the writing style – a lot of very long sentences that run on and on (which would be more effective if it’s for a screenplay).

Murder, Interrupted

murderinterrupted

 

The last time I read a book by James Patterson was in 2014, called Kill Me If You Can, because I read that it had been banned somewhere (for the subject of incest) but was available for loan at selected public libraries. Before that, I had read Patterson’s books sporadically over the decades. I decided to borrow Murder, Interrupted because I’d never heard of the TV series.

There are two stories in this book:

  • Murder, Interrupted and
  • Mother of all Murders

Both are easy to read, and I finished reading them within a day, despite being constantly interrupted by my runny nose and insistent cough and feeling lethargic.

Murder, Interrupted is about a rich, cheating financier Frank Howard who wants his wife dead, and is willing to pay Billie Earl Johnson whatever it takes, to the tune of $250,000. When the bullet misses the mark, Billie Earl and Frank turn on each other in a fight for their lives.

This interesting story begins with a Prologue in which Nancy, Frank’s wife, is shot at point blank at her home’s garage after her purse was snatched. The rest of the story, in seven parts, tell the back story from 2010 all the way to the trial in 2014. It tells of how lives are changed by this and forensic evidence lead to Frank being found guilty.

Mother of all Murders tells the true story of how Dee Dee Blanchande and her wheelchair-bound and terminally-ill daughter Gypsy Rose capture the hearts of people everywhere they go and how when Gypsy realises she isn’t sick but that she has been abused both mentally and physically, she exacts revenge by getting the evil Dee Dee killed.

This story is not new to me as I read about it in the newspapers when it happened, but I learned more about illnesses such as sleep apnea, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, leukemia, asthma, cancer, paralysis, and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. I must say the author is very good at the art of writing, to be able to transform a horrible news into an absorbing read.

I think the TV series must be true crime stories reenacted. The message is that the bad guys always gets caught, and these accounts remind us that though humans have the capacity for incredible kindness, we also have the capacity for unspeakable violence and depravity.

 

 

What We See When We Read

petermendelsund

 

I was attracted to this all-black cover, and the spelling of the author’s surname is very similar to that of the well-known Romantic German composer Felix Mendelssohn. I flipped through the book and saw that all the illustrations are in black and white, and found out that Peter Mendelsund is not only an acclaimed graphic artist but also a classically trained pianist whose first love is literature. I already liked the book!

Here are some wise observations:

  • Fiction – what do we see when we read? (Other than words on a page.) What do we picture in our minds? When we remember the experience of reading a book we imagine a continuous unfolding of images. We imagine that the experience of reading is like that of watching a film. (In music, notes and chords define ideas, so do rests.)
  • We do not apprehend words when we are reading them one at a time. When we read, we take in whole eyeful of words. We gulp them like water.
  • A word’s context matters. The significance of a word is contingent on the words that surround it. In this way, words are like musical notes. Imagine a single tone (say, middle C), or two (say, middle C and the G a perfect fifth above it); then add another note (say, E or E-flat) and there’s a chord and there is now some context with which to consider the first. The mood is changed utterly.
  • All good books are, at heart, mysteries. (Authors withhold information. This information may be revealed over time. This is one reason we bother to turn a book’s pages.)
  • When we read, it is important that we believe we are seeing everything. When I play the piano – as opposed to when I am listening to piano music – I don’t hear my mistakes. My mind is too busy imagining an idealised performance to hear what is actually emanating from the piano. In this sense, the performance aspects of playing the piano inhibit my ability to hear. Similarly, when we read, we imagine that we see.
  • A novel invites our interpretative skills, but it also invites our minds to wander.
  • Words are effective not because of what they carry in them, but for their latent potential to unlock the accumulated experience of the reader. Words “contain” meanings, but more important, words potentiate meaning.
  • As any poet would say, the rhythms, registers and onomatopoeic sounds of words build a synthetic transfer in listeners and readers (silent listeners).
  • Picturing stories is making reduction. Through reduction, we create meaning.

The illustrations are beautiful and clever, the text wonderful and fascinating. I am impressed by the creativity of the author. (I think I would be even more impressed if he, or another author, comes up with a book called ‘What We hear When We Read’.)

 

Left Neglected

leftneglected

Left Neglected is the fourth Lisa Genova novel I’ve read recently, the other three being Love Anthony, Inside the O’Briens and Every Note Played. (My favourite is Every Note Played, and Left Neglected is a close second.)

The story: Sarah Nickerson is a 37-year-old high flyer who gets left neglect after a car accident. Left Neglect is a condition which results from damage to the right hemisphere of the brain. (The brain isn’t paying attention to anything on her left; ‘left’ doesn’t exist.) In learning to live with her condition, Sarah realises she had previously neglected aspects of her life. (Hence the double meaning of the title.)

This condition affects not only Sarah, but also her family (husband Bob, children Charlie who has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder – another neurological condition – , Lucy and Linus, and her estranged mother). She has to accept and adjust and not give up, lose or fail. Among the rehabilitation techniques (Breathe, Focus, Clear Your Thoughts), Sarah also learns meditation and constraint-induced therapy. Even then, she feels upset and completely disoriented. She even gets depressed. Her mother comes into the picture; she wants to help because she wants to be in Sarah’s life again. (She had neglected Sarah after the accidental death of her brother Nate when he was 10. Her mother had suffered from depression for thirty years. She needs Sarah’s forgiveness. In the end she still couldn’t forgive herself.)

The non-existence of the left side for Sarah creates less than desirable consequences. Instead of noticing only the right side of everything, Sarah notices everything that is missing, everything that is wrong – omissions, flaws, neglect. Part of the experience of having Left Neglect is the pain, the bumps, the bruises and indignity and taking them all on the chin, literally and figuratively. She has to figure out how to make her brain work. She discovers she is very much like her mother.

This novel reminds us how life can change in an instant, it is engaging and enthralling; it shows how brain trauma forces people to change their lives. Like her other books, Lisa Genova (a neurologist) educates her readers, giving them an insight into what it’s truly like to live with these conditions. (I had never heard of Left Neglect before reading this book.)

There are many kinds of disabilities – e.g. Down syndrome, amputations, traumatic brain injury, spina bifada, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, balance problems and stroke – I wonder which one Lisa Genova will choose for her next book. And I also wonder how long before I get to read her next yet-to-be-published book. Maybe Jodi Picoult will have one first. (I’ve read all her books, but only reviewed Book: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult and Small Great Things here.) I can definitely read faster than either one of them can write – which goes to show how much easier it is to read than to write.