Behind Closed Doors

Susan Lewis is a bestselling author of more than 30 books (of which I’ve read about half a dozen and two memoirs (which I’ve read). I have found her books compelling, and I expected this one to be just as spellbinding. Once I started, I found myself wanting to turn the pages faster, to find out where the story leads to.

The story starts with 14-year-old Sophis Monroe quarelling with her step-mother over housechores. She then stomped off to her room but was found missing the next day. As the police investigtion unfolds, a wealth of secrets from the surrounding community start coming to life. And it seems everyone has something to hide. Nothing is straight-forward.

What happened to Sophie? Was she abducted? Was it an accident? Was she murdered? Did she run away? Did she drown?

The detective in charge of the case is painfully reminded of the tragedy that tore her family apart over 20 years ago. Her job has taken her all over the world,including Singapore.

This story is as much about Sophie as it is about the detective. We really never know what secrets lie behind closed doors.

Very Good Girls

This 2012 movie is about an episode between two close friends, Lilly (played by Dakota Fanning) and Gerri (played by Elizabeth Olsen).

It opens with Lilly on the way to a beach. When she got home, she walked  in on her father  having a tyrst with somone. He is forced to leave the family home. She confides in her best friend, Gerri. Gerri has her own problems at home, and suggests perhaps they should ‘swop’ families.

When Gerri’s father dies suddenly in a subway, Lilly is afraid and tells her mother that she has to let her father come home.

The two girls also fall in love with the same guy. A misunderstanding would lead the guy to leave the country and Gerri to severe her frienship with Lilly.

People aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. Sometimes it’s harder to forgive yourself than ask someone else to do it. But sometimes people surprise you.

Lilly leaves for college. And she gets a surprise…

Conversation Sparks

It’s the first time I’ve come across a book (not a comic) that is wholly in “speech bubbles”. The design and drawings alone are worth talking about, not to mention the trivia that’s absolutely fun to read! Some of the interesting ones are:

  • Women have shorter tongues than men.
  • There are more cell phones in the world than there are toothbrushes.
  • Any month that begins on a Sunday will have a Friday the 13th.
  • Can openers were invented 48 years after cans.
  • Adidas and Puma were founded by rival brothers.
  • Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones were roommates at Harvard.
  • A piano has more than 10,000 moving parts.
  • People catch the common cold less often as they age.
  • Stilettto is Italian for a short dagger.
  • A Japanese haiku is limited to 17 syllables because it’s believed you should be able to recite it in one breath.
  • Albert Einstein split the money from his Noble Prize with his ex-wife as part of his divorce settlement.
  • Elvis had sandy blond hair. He started dying it black in high school.
  • A young Margaret Meitchell read library books while recuperating from a car accident, until her husband, tired of running to the library, suggested she try writing instead. Her first attempt was called Gone With The Wind. It sold 2 million copies and won the Pulitzer Prize.
  • The 74-min standard length for compact discs was set by sony exec Norio Ohga, who thought that one disc should be able to contain an entire recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

I wonder if Ryan Chapman has produced any other similar book.


What made me decide to borrow this 2013 DVD is the fact that the director is Ridley Scott, as I’ve enjoyed his movies. Counselor is supposed to be an action-packed thriller, boasting a big cast including Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt, but as soon as I saw Fassbender in the first frame, I expected that I would be in for a disappointment because (again, according to my favourite teacher) 99 per cent of the time, a good story would not have its lead actor in the opening scene.True enough, it is so draggy at parts that I almost dozed off!

Fassbender is a savvy lawyer known for doing the right thing for the wrong people. He gets into a treacherous drug deal for some quick cash but soon learns that it means losing everything in the end.

The fake tattoos of leopard spots that run down the entire left side of Diaz are ridiculous and the way her implants wobbled is disgusting. Fassbender’s character is a man of impeccable taste and Cruz is a glorious woman, but I’m not impressed by either of them.

The saving grace in this movie is the many good aerial views of places like Cindad Juarez in Mexico and the landmarks in Amsterdam, Texas and London.

The Best Advice In Six Words

Edited by Larry Smith, with contributions from famous personalities like Julianne Moore, Jodi Picoult, David Baldacci as well as ordinary people from all over the world, this book is sometimes hilarious, often serious and occasionally reflective:

  • Does it need to be said? (Julianne Moore)
  • Don’t set your brother on fire. (Jodi Picoult)
  • Can’t say something nice? Try fiction. (David Baldacci)
  • The trick is to be grateful. (David Carr, memoir writer)
  • Fly fearlessly, regret nothing you love. (Erica Jung)
  • You can write your own song. (Blue Highway, boyband)
  • Play the piano until it’s fun! (Jimmy Wales)
  • ANGER MANAGEMENT: get a drum set. (Jace Daniel)
  • Danger! Never rely solely on spellcheck. (Jayne McKenzie)
  • We connect better with no Wi-Fi. (Catherine Hois)
  • Count vacation days, not sick days. (Elizabeth Kalman)
  • Procratination is failure in slow motion.(Beth Landers)
  • Hearts will break. Hugs will mend. (Mary Sikkel)
  • Self-deception: a life sentence without parole. (Rob Fraley)
  • Work hard. Play hard. Laugh. Relax. (Brian Levler)

These are six-word wonders that amuse, impress and inspire the readers and make them think! I must look out for other books by Larry Smith.

The Courage of Irena Sendler

Based on the book The Mother Of The Holocaust Children by Anna Miezkowska, this 2009 film starring Anna Paquin is a remarkable true story of World War II hero Irena Sendler who rescued over 2,500 Jewish children during the German occupation of Poland.

In 1941, World War II rages through Europe. In occupied Poland, the Germans have established the Warsaw Ghetto for all the Jewish residents of the city. Over 440,000 Jews are forced inside its walls. There are some folks who want to help, but if the Germans find them hiding a Jew, they will be executed.

Recalling what her late father told her: “If you see a man drowning, you must save him even if you cannot swim”,Irena Sendler, who works at the Department of Social Servies at the Warsaw Civic Centre, wants to help the children inside the ghetto. (There are at least 80,000 of them, half of them under 10.)

One of the safe ways to get out is through blind spots the Germans overlook, for example the courthouse with a side entrance that is forgotten.

Hitler calls Jews a cancer to thte nation. What did Jews ever do? It’s not fair. Concentration camps are being built; 300 train cars transport them there regularly. In such a camp, the only purpose is death.

To survive, Irena Sendler must teach the children to lie about their faith and family background. Outside the walls of the ghetto there are Poles who are willing to save the children. Irena created an efficient network (an underground network that provides funds, papers and identifications) to save many children; she will then keep a record of where she places the children by writing them on scraps of paper in jars buried in the ground.

The Germans decide to deport all orphanages and all Jews will be resettled in the East; Jews found hiding will be shot. There is plenty of destruction, devastation and cruelty. Nobody can promise anything any more. Irena is arrested and taken in for questioning. she is manhandled, restrained and beaten severely on the soles, and threatened with execution. She is put in solitary confinement and tortured repeatedly.

Not a single child she rescued was ever betrayed or discovered by the Nazis. In 2007, Irena Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. she died in Warsaw, Poland in May 2008. She was 98 years old.

I find Irena Sendler to be truly courageous. War is appalling and meaningless. It is not a cliche to hope for world peace.

Lethal Intent

The truth revealed here by veteran journalist and award-winning writer Sue Russell about Aileen Wuornos, a woman who became a serial killer, is much more compelling than the Hollywood version in the acclaimed feature film Monster, for which Charlize Theron won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Aileen.

I was hooked from the very first page of this 576-page book. Having recently read Secrets In The Cellar (posted here on 21 July 2016), I was keen to find our more about another house of secrets in Lethal Intent!

The curtains of Aileen’s childhood home was always drawn tightly across its small windows, and behind these windows, young Aileen was ritualistically beaten by her father with a doubled-over leather belt. Her father repeatedly told her that she was evil, wicked, worthless and should never have been born. By the time she was 11, Aileen was already incorrigible, with a fearsome and socially unacceptable temper. Her volcanic explosions were unpredictable and seemingly unprovoked. She also became increasingly involved with drugs. She was an object of ridicule and abuse. She was also raped.

There was also incest between Aileen and her father (who was also her grandfather), and a brother who was 11 months older. Aileen began shoplifting in her early teens. It seemed nobody ever cared about Aileen. She did not have a single good, healthy, supportive or nurturing relationship with a man during her formative years. Could this have been one of the reasons she took a lesbian partner later in life?

On top of all these, she became pregnant at 14, another shameful secret. Despite giving up her baby for adoption, Aileen was thrown out of her home and began a lifestyle of hitchhiking, petty crime and the sex trade. There was deep anger within her and in her twisted mind, incontrollable bouts of violence were pure survival skills.

As the years went by, Aileen degenerated further, including commiting thefts (not just of money, cars and firearms but also various identities) and a string of murders (of which she admitted to six). These eventually led to her execution by lethal injection when she was 36.

Lethal Intent is a truly enthralling and amazing read. I would like to get my hands on the other True Crime thrillers from Pinnacle Books (published by Kensington Publishing Corp).

1001 Ways To Creativity

Published in 2013 by Arcturus Publishing Limited, this is a colourful book filled with insights into the creative process. It shows how stale, tired thinking can be turned into new, fresh concepts; how to harness the imagination and how to transform the ideas generated into reality. The book contains eight sections, and here are some of the quotes I find interesting:

1. What is creativity?

  • Everybody’s recipe for creativity is different, but perseverence always features in the list of ingredients.
  • The creative person is the one who understands the rules but is not afraid to break them.
  • Creativity is intelligence having a day out.

2. Finding the way

  • Begin anywhere, and at any time. The important thing is to begin.
  • Think of everything that happens to you – good and bad – as materials.
  • Do what you can rather than dwelling on what you can’t.

3. The Creative Heart

  • What you create with your heart will touch the hearts of others. That which you don’t, won’t.
  • To be heartless is to be artless.
  • That which is heart-felt is never wrong.

4. Working creatively

  • There’s no retirement for an artist, it’s your way of living so there’s no end to it. (Henry Moore)
  • All creative people work in the laboratory of the human heart.
  • Lots of people work hard and play hard – but only creative people get to do both at the same time.

5. The Spirit of Creativity

  • No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings. (William Blake)
  • Giving praise to creativity is also a creative act.
  • Only the person with a creative soul can see the universe with a grain of sand.

6. The Guides

  • The best style is the style you don’t notice. (W. Somerset Maugham)
  • What is life, if not a series of inspired follies? (George Bernard Shaw)
  • Personality is everything in art and poetry. (Goethe)

7. Staying creative

  • When your mind wanders, follow it – don’t let it wander off without you.
  • Do not fear mistakes. In terms of creativity, there are none.
  • Each and every moment is special if we are only creative enought to notice it as such.

8. The Creative Smile

  • This book was written using 100 per cent recycled words. (Terry Pratchett)
  • A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive a car. (Kenneth Tynan)
  • There is a thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the biggest idiot on earth. (Cynthia Heimel)

The entire book is full of ideas, tips, tricks and inspirational examples. The most interesting  is the last section, as every single quote brings a smile to my face.



Based on Alan Flynn’s The Dark Fields, this 2011 movie stars Bradley Cooper (who is also executive producer) as Eddie Morra, a burnt-out writer, and Robert De Niro as Carl Van Loon, a cunning Wall Street power broker. The movie opens with Eddie on the edge of his balcony contemplaying jumping, thinking: Why is it that the moment your life exceeds your wildest dreams the knife appears at your back? Well, I will never let them touch me.

It all started when Eddie met his ex-brother-in-law who gave him a $800-pill (actually unknown, untested and unreliable) which unlocks 100% of his brain’s capacity.

Eddie instantly acquires mind-bending talents and mesmerizing visions that bring him big money, beautiful women and limitless success. For eg, he learns to play the piano in three days (Sergie Rachmaninoff’s Prelude No 2 in C# Minor, a diploma piece), he only has to half-listen to any language and become fluent (he bantered with a waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Mandarin). He knows everything about anyone. Everything read, heard or seen is now organised and available.

Eddie makes money in shares. He quadruples his money in four days in a row. However, he soon finds himself entangled with Carl, who thinks that Eddie is a con artist but also a very smart young man. This dream  life soon turns into a living nightmare. The amazing new drug Eddie has been taking has a brutal side effect: and people who have experimented with the same drug are either dead or very sick.

Eddie didn’t want to die because people are instinctive and want to live.

There is a twist to the story and the conclusion is a surprising one. Also, I enjoyed watching the great performances of De Niro and Cooper who is charming and smart.

Secrets In The Cellar

Written by John Glatt, this is the true story of the 2008 Austrian incest case that shocked the world.

Josef Fritzl, a distinguished-looking gray-haired man who seemed very polite and very normal, imprisoned and molested his daughter for 24 years. He claimed she had run away in 1984, aged 18, to join a religious sect and had not been seen since. Until  Elizabeth’s 19-year-old daughter Kerstin was sent to the emergency room in a hospital. Kerstin had been apparently neglected, was missing most of her teeth, had several bald patches, her skin was deathly white and she appeared to be severely anemic. As her vital signs started to shut down, she was put on life support and police were called regarding this mysterious female in critical concition. The police reopened the case of Elizabeth with a plea to the public on TV.

One week later, Josef called with the astonishing news that Elizabeth had returned and would be going to the hospital to see her daughter. After much questioning, Elizabeth (now 42 years old) eventually broke down and told the truth, including how she had been raped by her father since she was 11, became a sex slave after being drugged at 18 and how she bore him 7 children (one of whom for which Josef was charged with murder). This was the first time she had ever been outside the dungeon in 24 years.

Elizabeth had no choice but to submit to Josef’s violent attacks or starve to death. She resigned herself to captivity and lived a torturous existence. Josef employed many cunning red herrings over the years to convince the world that Elizabeth had joined a mysterious cult. He had a bizarre new role for Elizabeth – as his second wife and the mother of a subterranean family.

How did Elizabeth cope with her pain and at what point was her will broken? She seemed to be a textbok victim of Srockholm syndrome – a psychological condition where a hostage becomes sympathetic or loyal to their captors to survive, in order not to go insane. Elizabeth now obeyed Josef’s every command for the sake of her children and he cunningly exploited this.

Elizabeth’s surviving children’s balance and coordination affected living their lives in artificial light in a confined place. They suffered unimaginable sensory deprivation, vitamin deficiencies and problems with their immune system. It was a miserable existence.

Josef lived his complicated double life with military precision, getting an extra thrill of beating the system.

After 8,516 days in the dungeon, Elizabeth was finally brought our of the cellar into the daylight. She finally broke down after several hours of gentle coaxing and assurances that she would never have to see her father again, and that she and her children would be protected against him, and told her story.

The incredible story would plunge Austria into a national scandal. It was the worst crime in  history and Josef Fritzl is the worst kind of scum. (The book suggested that Josef might have raped Kerstin when he found Elizabeth too old and unattractive.)

Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Austrian-born movie superstar and California governot, sent a  personal invitation for the family to visit him in Hollywood; movie star Ben Affleck declared in an interview to promote his directional debut in a movie about child abduction called Gone Baby Gone that “emotionally, I think the Austrian sex offender Josef Fritzl should be killed”.

Elizabeth is an extremely courageous woman, who does everything for her children without worry about herself. What she had suffered is unspeakable.

The publisher, St Martin’s, has many titles that bring readers to the scene of the crimes and into the minds of the notorious murderers in sensatiional cases. If Secrets In The Cellar is any indication, the other St Martin’s True Crime Library paperbacks would be better than any thriller, because they’re all true! I will look for the other titles in the library soon!