The Santiago Sisters

I picked this book out at random. I was looking for an author that I’ve never read before, and The Santiago Sisters by Victoria Fox caught my attention: It is a relatively new copy (judging by the serial number besides the pristine condition), the title appeals to me, the length is okay (508 pages) and the font size is ‘normal’.

Not having a sister of my own, I’m always curious about the dynamics and relationship between sisters; what’s more, this story is about a pair of twins born two minutes apart. The tagline on the cover (“Bound by blood, separated by scandal”) sounds intriguing. I’ve read that twins share a special bond: from birth to death, they are two halves of the same whole. Can they survive if they’re separated?

I was captivated right from the Prologue, which is so cleverly written that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to reach the pivotal moment. The book is divided into four parts: 1994-2000, 2000-2005, 2006-2010, 2011-2014, with the final chapter in each section acting as a link to the Prologue. The Epilogue is set in Jan 2015. These take us from the lives of the twins from when they were ten years old in Argentina to London to Paris to California to New York to Barbados to Stockholm and Barcelona.

Argentinan twins Calida and Terisita Santiago are separated at 15; Tessa is left behind on the (rather impoverished) family farm when Teresita is adopted by world-famous actress Simone Geddes. Simone would groom Teresita to be a superstar. Calida has nothing but, starting with a camera given to her by her late father, works her way to become a top fashion photographer.

There are secrets, miunderstandings, miscommunications, lies, deceit and repercussions. Add feelings of hurt, bitterness, revenge and hatred. Throw in friendship, love and happiness. The story also gives a glimpse into the ugliness and disgust behind the glitter of the movie industry and the brutal and yet glamorous world of fashion photography. All the characters (and there are quite a few – good, bad and the in-between) are brilliantly absorbing, and the pace of the story is exciting. There is tension and surprises. And a big and explosive twist at the end.

This is one scintillating and satisfying read; I shall borrow more of Victoria Fox’s books.


Every Thing Will Be Fine

I vaguely recall the name James Franco (he was the lead actor in 127 Hours, I think) but he didn’t leave much impression. The only thing that enticed me to borrow this 2015 DVD is the promise of Rachel McAdams on the cover. When I turned to look at the back cover, it said something about a drama about a struggling writer. I thought it could be watchable, but was sorely disappointed throughout the nearly two hours.

Tomas Eldan (Franco) is a novelist living with Sara (McAdams) but their relationship is strained. One day Tomas fatally hits a young boy (Nicholas) on a wintry snowy road. Nicholas’ brother Christopher is unhurt but their mother Kate (Chatlotte Gainsbourg) is devastated.

Even at this point, I find it strange that there is no punishment for Tomas (though he is questioned by the police), but he remains in contact with Kate. Both of them suffer guilt and loss respectively.

A few months after a half-hearted attempt at suicide, Tomas goes to the accident site and meets Kate and they go for a walk. They exchange contact details and Kate gives Tomas a book of religious nature. They talk on the phone late at night. They have a ceremony burning books by American writer and Nobel Prize laureate, William Cuthbert Faulkner. (This is one of the scenes that I don’t understand.)

Tomas and Sara part ways and Tomas goes on to marry Ann (Marie-Josee Croze) whom he met at his publisher’s, adopting her young daughter.

More than a decade after the accident, Tomas wins the Giller Prize for his latest novel. He receives a letter from Christopher and their contacts are troubling though they eventually come to an understanding.

The entire movie is so slow-paced and tedious that I’m surprised I didn’t fall asleep or fast-forward the disc. This must be partly due to the lovely countryside of Quebec, the transformation brought on by the four seasons: the frozen lake, falling snow, the dead of winter, wide expanse of lush greenery, the fields of gold, the beautiful sea and beachfront, and the rich landscape. Another reason is the music used – whether gentle piano music, stirring violins and orchestra, dramatic music or suspenseful music – are apt for the scenes.

The only lines uttered by Tomas that I like are: When you write, ideas can come from all different kinds of place. Some are based on experience and others are from the imagination.

Table 19

I don’t remember this movie being shown in a cinema here and I wondered why. I had to borrow it as it is a 2017 comedy starring Anna Kendrick, June Squibb and Lisa Kudrow, three names I recognise out of many others.

The main character is Eloise McGarry (Kendrick). She is attending the wedding reception of her oldest friend Francie Millner (Rya Meyers) and is assigned to be seated at Table 19. Eloise was orginally the maid of honour but when she broke up with the best man, Teddy (Wyatt Russell) who is Francie’s brother and best man, she is replaced by Nikki (Amanda Crew), Teddy’s ex-girlfriend.

The other guests at Table 19 are Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina (Kudrow) Kepp who are Facebook friends of the groom’s father, high-schooler Renzo Eckberg (Tony Revolori) whose parents are acquaintances of the groom, Jo Flanagan (Squibb) who was Francie’s nanny, and Walter Thimble (Stephen Merchant) who is Francie’s cousin. It was expected that the “randoms” at Table 19 would not show up.

The six talk and get to know one another. At one point, they go to Jo’s room to smoke pot (perhaps this is why the movie is not shown in Singapore) and converse about their reasons for attending the wedding. Later on, we find out that Jo has cancer and she is “due” about the same time Eloise will give birth. The Kepps reconcile. Renzo has a new girlfriend. Walter refers to the others as his family. Eloise and Teddy are together and have a son named Joe.

Despite the strong cast, the story is weak, though it tries to deal with serious topics such as infidelity, pregnancy and abortion, breakups, cancer, embezzelment and alcoholism. The odd grouping of Table 19 is obviously for laughs, though not always successful and often feels like a TV sitcom. Some of the jokes are not in very good taste. The language is sometimes crude.

One positive message is that second chances and forgiveness are not only possible but a part of what makes a good marriage work. The movie affirms love, marriage and parenthood as good things.

The other good vibe about this movie is the music. As the main premise is a wedding at an exotic beachfront location, and there are scenes of ballroom dancing, there are plenty of music and songs (I think about 30); including Johann Pachebel’s Canon in D, Carol Ann Decker’s Heart and Soul, Jules Shear’s All Through The Night, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, Mark Gordon and Harry Warren’s At Last and Maraichi music.

The Woman in the Wood

Like the other two dozen books by Lesley Pearse that I’ve read, this latest novel is gripping and emotionally powerfully. It is also good material for a screenplay; among other things (like the New Forest countryside which must be a picture of serenity, with its wild flowers, trees, weeds, insects, birds and animals all living together in harmony), I can imagine watching in awe Singapore in 1941 and ballroom scenes with lovely music from Neil Sedeka, Bobby Vee, Elvis Presley, Matt Monroe and a couple more from the 1960s.

The story of teenage twins (Maisie and Duncan Mitcham) sent to live with their paternal grandmother comes with many sub-plots, each more intriguing than the other. Central to all these is Grace Deville, the woman who lives alone in the wood about whom so many rumours abound. The plots weave together family drama, crime, mystery, suspense, romance and social issues such as mental illness, loss, murder, abduction, cruelty and the effects of war.

Besides the protagonists, the other characters (the twins’ parents Alastair and Lily, grandmother Violet, her housekeeper Janice, her solicitor Daniel Grainger, Alastair’s mistress Jenny, Grainger’s wife Diedre, the twins’ friends- especially Linda and Alan, Grace’s neighbour, Grainger’s client’s husband Hugo Fairbanks and many more, including police officers) are also very well crafted.

I marvel at the rate Lesley Pearse is churning out these mesmerising novels and am very eager to read the next one!


Understanding Various Weight Management Programmes

There is an interest group for seniors at the Toa Payoh Public Library called Lim Kopi, Let’s Talk. I’ve attended a couple in the past, to discuss current topics such as transport and environmental change. Yesterday’s session was comparing the pros and cons across a range of strategies with a health coach from a social enterprise championing healthy eating in schools and at home.

The first thing the speaker said was that we can lose weight by eating good fat and one of the ways is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, use the right cooking method and the right ingredients. Our body weight is composed of three main components: fat, lean body and mass weight. (Fat would include visceral fat which will penetrate into our arteries, resulting in clots, the result of which could be fatal.) We were then shown a video about visceral fat in the body (taken from the National Geographic Channel) where we saw how less muscle means the body burns fewer calories and surplus food get converted into fat. Too many calories and fats make a lethal combination. Examples of fats are from bad oil and processed food.

A few types of diets were discussed: The Paleo Diet (a ‘hunter lifestyle’ advocating lean protein), The Vegan Diet (which no one was interested in), Intermittent Fasting (which includes the 5:2 Diet whereby one restricts intake to 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days in a week and eats normally on the other five days), The Low Carb Diet and The Ultra Low-fat Diet. The last two are the most popular :

The Low Carb Diet – Consume more fats and protein while severely limiting carb intake. When carb intake is very low, fatty acids are moved to the blood and transported to the liver where some of them are turned into ketones. (We’re supposed to find out more about ketones on FB on our own.) Deep fried items are out, so are peanuts which have very high fat, and no rice or porridge. Even starchy vegetables are considered carbs. Carbs stored in the body become visceral fats, so one can really lose weight if the quantity and frequency of carbs are reduced. The downside of this diet is that it does not suit everyone (like me). So we’ll just have to be mindful of “calories in and calories out”.

The Ultra Low-fat Diet – Limit the intake of animal fats. This diet is very high in carb and low in protein. Benefits include improving risk factors for heart diseases, inflammation and type 2 diabetes. The downside include problems in the long-term, limits the intake of many healthy fats, lacks variety and extremely hard to stick to. This diet is only feasible for the short term.

The speaker also mentioned two programmes called Herbalife and ageloc TR90. The former works, but the downside is that the effectiveness is short-term. The two conditions for the latter to work are discipline and determination. But it is a rich person’s weight management programme. (So neither suits me.)

The take-home message is that there is no such thing as a “best” weight loss programme. Different diets work for different people and the best diet is one in which we can stick to in the long term. Besides making daily healthy food choices and knowing the various ‘protecting’ foods (fruits and vegetables), ‘storing’ foods (whole grains and brown rice), ‘burning’ foods 1 (high protein vegetables) and ‘burning’ foods 2 (steamed fish, chicken), regular exercise is important if we want to maintain a healthy weight.

A Body Composition Analysis was offered to all present. As what I already suspected, I’m not only classified as obese (having a BMI between 24 and 25) but also have a higher percentage of body fat (including visceral fat) compared to skeletal muscle and a low resting metabolism. However, my skin carotenoid score is good (in the blue zone).

Already, I’m very disciplined with my exercise (I go the the gym for an hour every morning but the exercises are low intensity because – this is not an excuse – of osteoarthitis); so I’ll have to be stricter with my diet which is an uphill task in Singapore because there is so much yummy food around!

Love Gives Faith

It’s been a while

Since our paths crossed,

Let’s not give up

What’s within reach.

Look to the future

That now seems heavy,

Dreams may come true yet

If our hearts are one.

Do not let time erode

Our long relationship –

Boundless and endless,

Since time immemorial.

‘Tis a kind of separation

That calls for a reunion,

And face the future bravely

Because love gives us faith.

Love is Dead


The night is dark,

My heart is broke;

Though we’re apart.

You’re in my heart.

Flowers wither,

And time has passed;

The air is still,

And love is dead.

Sporadic rain –

Its continuance

Lenghty, winding

And uncertain.

Morning will come,

But love will not;

An abeyance

Cast from the start.