Stars Between the Sun and Moon

luciajang

 

Stars Between the Sun and Moon: One Woman’s Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom by Lucia Jang and Susan McClelland is an extraordinary memoir by a North Korean woman who defied the government to keep her family alive. It was published  in 2004 and dedicated to Jang’s three sons, “so that they may understand their history and their mother’s love for them”, and “for the numerous nameless North Koreans who attempted to escape to freedom and life, and perished on their journey before they could reach their destination”, each with a story filled with as much heartache and pain as well as hope and love as Jang’s own.

In the Prologue, Jang writes a letter to Taebum (her second son) telling him that from the moment he was conceived, no one wanted him; and about how she carried him across the Tumen River to China and carried him in her arms to Mongolia. She acknowledged that Taebum will never set foot on the soil of his homeland; nevertheless, she wants him to understand the Chosun that is his soul.

Part One is mostly about Jang’s childhood days. It is when she first learned that ‘I love you’ means many things: “if love comes to us, we must let it land. But we must also be prepared to let it go”. She was led to believe that “if you are good and have a kind heart, all  your struggles and pain will be rewarded with what you want most”. She married at 22, to Myungin because he raped her and got her pregnant. He hit her, punched her and kicked her until she gave birth to a son, Sungmin, when she decided to leave. However, she was forced to go back to Myungin and the beatings, with belt and stick, continued. By the time Sungmin was 10 months old, Jang’s eyes were glassy from malnutrition and her limbs were stuck in slow motion; so she went back to her parents’ house. Her mother sold the baby for 300 won and two bars of soap.

Part Two tells of how Jang asked her mother for the address of the woman who had organised the adoption. Hunger was sweeping the neighbourhood but she wanted to buy her son back. Life was terrible in Chosun. She learned to live as a ghost. She was taken to Beijing to be sold off as wife to a Chinese man for 3,000 Chinese yuan (about $350 in Canadian currency). She managed to escape and fought with a dog for a bag of rice it was eating. Fatigue overtook her and she collapsed. She met a fellow train commuter who introduced her to her brother Jungsoo.

Part Three tells of how Jang became gaunt and malnourished as she was taken to the detention centre at Chosun where “life is not life”. She vowed to stay alive to see Sungmin again. After being freed, she went back to Jungsoo and became pregnant. She was asked to abort but refused and ran away. She was caught and released to her parents, where she gave birth to Taebum, and then sent back to prison to serve her sentence. She left with her baby crossing the riverbank to China; then another smuggler took them to Mongolia and then to South Korea.

The Epilogue tells of how Jang sought asylum in South Korea until 2008, then immigrated to Canada. She is now a Canadian resident, granted permanent status on humanitarian grounds. Taebum has a younger brother born in Canada.

I salute Jang for  her tremendous courage in telling a heartbreaking personal story of pain and tenacity. This story also serves as a record of, and tribute to, the untold stories of numerous North Koreans who have attempted to continue to escape to freedom, so that their lives and struggles do not go unaccounted. This fascinating memoir helps us understand the lives of those many others who have no way of making their voices heard.

Eric Clapton and Friends in concert

ericclapton

 

On this rainy afternoon, I decided to re-watch Eric Clapton and Friends in Concert. This was taped live at Madison Square, New York City in 1999. It features performances by Eric Clapton and his friends David Sanborn, Cheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige and Bob Dylan. This is a benefit concert to raise money for the drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, Crossroads Center, which Clapton opened the year before,  on the island of Antigua.

The video begins with a chat with Clapton and footage of the guitar auction in which Clapton gives his thoughts on his instruments and getting sober. The concert begins with his version of Hoochie Coochie Man with a blinding guitar solo. He then continues with River of Tears before partnering David Sanborn (saxaphonist) in Going Down Slow. His next guest is Cheryl Crow, with whom he performed My Favourite Mistake, Difficult Kind and Little Wing. This is followed by rhythm-and-blues singer Mary J. Blige (Be Happy/ You Bring Me Joy and Not Gon’ Cry).

The most interesting part of the concert is when Clapton himself performs his hits: Tears in Heaven, Change the World, Old Love, Wonderful Tonight and Layla. (My favourite being Tears in Heaven and Wonderful Tonight, both of which I can play indefinitely.)

The next most interesting part is when Bob Dylan comes on stage to perform Don’t Think Twice, It’s all Right and Crossroads (a duet with Clapton). Listening to both icons sing and watching the two guitar gods play the guitar together is unforgettable.

For the encore, Clapton performs Sunshine of Your Love, but I still think of him as Mr Wonderful.

blueeyedboy

blueeyedboy

 

I’ve heard of Joanne Harris but have never read any of her books. Instead of reading her award-winning novel Chocolat (which was turned into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp), I decided to give blueeyedboy a go since it’s been standing on my book shelf for ages.

blueeyedboy is a dark tale of poisonously dysfunctional family, a psychological thriller that makes creative use of all the disguise and mind games that are offered by life on the internet. In the Acknowledgement, Harris writes: “Some books are easy to read. some are rather more difficult. and some books are just like Rubik’s cubes with no apparent solution in sight…” Indeed, I’m rather confused by all the twists and turns and didn’t really enjoy the book. I had no idea where the story is going and how it would end up and I didn’t get any sense of plot or purpose most of the time.

The blueyedboy is a 42-year-old working at the local hospital. He is 5′ 8″, has mousy hair, blue eyes, is nicely inconspicuous, drives a blue Peugeot 307, has a study lined with books and has a darkroom in the basement where he develops his photographs. He is single, straight, well-spoken, leads a blameless lifestyle and has an unsullied reputation. He is curious and has harmless interests. He still lives with his controlling mother and spends most of his time creating stories online which seems to be a haven for social rejects with a taste of violence. He experiences people and places as colours, smells and tastes. The boundaries between virtual and real life becomes blurred. My attention also began to drift.

In the end, I’m thoroughly confused, with the story and characters like Dr Peacock, Nigel, Albertine and Emily White.

 

Every Three Hours

everythreehours

I read Chris Mooney for the first time only because this book, Every Three Hours, has been standing on my book shelf for a long time and I’m running out of things to read since I’m still housebound. I wouldn’t have bothered if I had gone on the internet and found out that this is the sixth installment in a series. (I didn’t realise this from the blurb.)

The story: Darby McCormick is a forensic investigator who is lured back to her hometown to help solve a cold case. Before she could do that, she is confronted by a stand-off  with a man who has explosives strapped to himself  and has taken a pregnant woman hostage. Other bombs are hidden around the city, rigged to explode every three hours, until he gets what he wants…

Perhaps I might have enjoyed this book better if I had gotten to know the characters through the earlier books in the series. I seemed to get a bit lost towards the middle. And then I lost interest.

I’ll be sure to pick my books carefully in future.

Hollywood Girls Club

maggiemarr

 

This is the first time I’ve come across the name Maggie Marr. She is not just an author but also an attorney and a producer. She has had her career in the entertainment industry for quite some time and has written tor TV, film and celebrities. This book is dedicated to the entertainment community, a place where genius thrives, creativity flourishes, and dreams really do come true.

The three main characters here are Jessica Caulfield the agency president, Celeste Solange the megastar and Lydia Albright the producer with the magic touch. They have been friends for a long time. They are all working on the same project. It will take their collective clout to make this a blockbuster. They aim to achieve this together with the naive writer Mary Anne Meyers.

The novel reveals the inner workings of Hollywood and how strong-willed women navigate the shifting landscape of influence and control with their sometimes ugly motivations, humanizing frailties, grandiose scandals and lasting friendships.

This book is pure fun. I couldn’t help but compare this to Jackie Collin’s Deadly Embrace which I read recently. If I had ever thought Collins uses unsavory language, Marr is even more trashy. I will definitely not want to read another book by Marr.

Dreaming of a Stranger

dreamingofastranger

 

After reading a chilling tale, I thought it was time for a change to reading something on the lighter side. So I dug up this early book by Sheila O’Flanagan: Dreaming of a Stranger.

Jane O’Sullivan is a dreamer; she is always dreaming of something or someone all the time. Then she gets married, and finds that life isn’t like any of her dreams. . .

At over 600 pages (of fine print), I find this book a bit too rambling. What I like though, is how the author names each chapter after a top UK or US hit to reflect the content and the time frame of the story, eg Woman (Apr 1981 US No 7 by John Lennon) and Making Your Mind Up (Apr 1981 UK No 2 by Bucks Fizz) in the first two chapters to Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Nov 1981 UK No 20 by Diane Ross) to Wedding Bells (Dec 1981 UK No 10 by Godley & Creme) to When the Going Gets Tough (Feb 1986 UK No 1 by Billy Ocean) to How Will I Know (Mar 1986 UK No 11 by Whitney Houston) to A Kind of Magic (May 1986 UK No 15 by Queen) to Nessun Dorma (Jun 1990 UK No 14 by Luciano Pavarotti) to Listen to Your Heart (Sep 1990 UK No 16 by Roxette) to You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (Nov/Dec 1990 UK No 10 by Righteous Brothers) to Without You (Feb 1994 UK No 1 by Mariah Carey) to Love Is All Around (Jun 1994 UK No 15 by Wet Wet Wet) to Always (Sep 1994 UK No 2 by Bon Jovi).

I wouldn’t say this is one of O’Flanagan’s better books, but it is quite witty and touching in parts and rather entertaining overall, albeit quite forgettable in content.

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.

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).