Lighthouse Beach

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Always on the lookout for new authors, my interest was piqued when I saw this book with a lovely cover. I looked at the blurb and it said something about friendship, love and a journey of self-discovery. Sounds promising. Alas, with great expectation comes great disappointment.

The story begins in summer in Maine. Lillo Gray has just arrived at the most exclusive hotel there. She has been invited to the wedding of Jessica Parker, whom she’d met when they were unhappy 8-year-old girls at fat camp in the summer, till they were 14. Two other friends, Allie and Diana have also been invited to the posh wedding. The four of them caught Jessica’s fiance flagrante delicto in the parking lot, but Jessica needed Lillo to stand up for her especially since Jessica’s parents are always trying to undermine her self-esteem. Jessica is docile, malleable, always apologising for her shortcomings and promising to try harder and doing whatever to please her parents. And her parents want her to marry this scum bug from a rich family. Jessica has always been insecure and always caved to a stronger person, and the three friends together are like the three witches in Macbeth. All of them escape to Lighthouse Island, hoping to figure out what Jessica should do next.

This is about the most interesting bit in the book, and it is just the beginning. What happens at the Lighthouse Beach are either too predictable or unrealistic. Some parts are too lengthy and the pace a tad slow. It is so ‘relaxed’ that it feels much longer than 400 pages. Even at the end, it feels like there are a lot of loose ends that still need tidying up. If this is a deliberate ploy to get readers to read its sequel, I’ll pass.

I’m not sure I would want to read the earlier books by the same author, either.

Brazil

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What enticed me to borrow Brazil, a 1985 movie, is that Robert De Niro is in it, though I’m not very keen on fantasy. The protagonist is a bureaucrat named Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) who dreams of a life where he can fly away from technology and spend eternity with the woman of his dreams, whom he meets while trying to rectify the wrongful arrest of Harry Buttle (Robert De Niro).

The setting is grand, and there’s attention to detail from the smallest hissing pipe to the greatest open space. I don’t quite know what to make of the story line as some characters appear without explanation, some things happen that are quite hard for me to understand, and the dream sequences I find confusing. The events seem disjointed and bizarre.

This is supposed to be a dark comedy, and sharply satirical, but they’re all lost on me. The only thing that keeps me watching till the end is the music, mostly performed by an orchestra, and some jazzy music for piano and quartet.

Face Off

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Having read and enjoyed the first book in The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles (Her Darkest Nightmare), I was very excited when I found Face Off in the library because I had not been able to get hold of the second installment (Hello Again). After reading it, I realised with a tinge of disappointment that this third installment has ‘spoiled’ things for me. So much so that I would not be looking to read the next installment (Blindspot). Neither would I bother to read the second installment then read the third installment again to make sense of the story.

Evelyn Talbot is a psychiatrist and her work involves psychopaths. She had been tortured and left for dead at sixteen, but turned her personal nightmare into studying  psychopathy. Jasper Moore aka Andy Smith is the antagonist in the novel. The opening chapter – The Prologue – is perhaps the most intriguing one. I wish the rest of the book is as riveting.

Set in Anchorage, Alaska, a woman (Sierra Yerbowitz) went missing while on holiday at a cabin with her brother Leland and two other friends. Clues point to Jasper as the man involved. Investigations unearth two bodies, not one. Yet no one suspicious or violent had been found. Jasper must be hiding in plain sight…

I had thought that since this is a different case, perhaps it didn’t matter that I had not read Hello Again. I’m mistaken. A lot of the details are built on what is apparently events that happened in the previous installment, and the missing information for me means I did not find this book all that captivating as I thought some things are unbelievable/unrealistic.

Little Liar

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I’ve not read any of Lisa Ballantyne’s previous novels, but Little Liar intrigued me because of the clever cover design. (The word Liar is deliberately printed upside down and this seems to hint of something unusual about the liar or lie itself.)

The little liar is Angela Furness, a 12-year-old who accused her 35-year-old drama teacher Nick Dean of sexual assault. It’s obvious that Lisa lied, but why did she lie? Right from the start, I felt it must be because of her family background. (Her father had left home and her mother is bitter.) She starts behaving badly and even resorts to violence that results in two days’ suspension from school, which she prefers. She is feeling empty and has a lot of rage and hatred. She attempts suicide. All these are signs that she craves attention, and that something is very wrong.

Nick is a nice actor who teaches drama workshops and media training. His wife of seven years is the main breadwinner of the family. They have two children. Because of Angela’s accusation, their relationship becomes brittle. It is made worse when Nick’s wife discovers his secret. However, it is clear that Nick has been accused of something he didn’t do. I guessed quite early on what must have happened, and I read very quickly to see if I guessed correctly. And, yes, I did!

Of course the investigation is eventually dropped, and the truth revealed. I must say the writing is gripping, as it compels me to read every word at the same time trying to get to the last pages quickly. I am keen to read other books by the same author, so I shall keep a look out when I next visit the library.

The Truman Show

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To satisfy my curiosity, I borrowed The Truman Show (1998) on my last trip to the library@esplanade. After nearly two hours I found out who Jim Carrey is, but still left wondering why the movie and the spin-off television series was so popular.

The story is about a world famous reality star who thinks he’s just an insurance agent. Since his life is a fake one, and he is exploited, I don’t understand why this comedy is such a great success. Another point to pick: why is that Truman’s friends and family have no true feelings for him? Why do they turn his entire life into a lie? Why do they deceive him?

I am puzzled how people can like this movie. I thing the story line is lame. It is quite annoying and insulting to see one man live a meaningless live watched by millions of people. Even Jim Carrey’s smiles and acting are nothing to shout about.

The only redeemable features are the setting, cinematography and music, in particular classical music like Johannes Brahms’ famous Lullaby, Frederick Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 (2nd Movt) played by the legendary Arthur Rubinstein, and W.A.Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turco (from his Piano Sonata No 11 in A Major) and Horn Concerto No 1 in D Major (1st Movt Allegro). The soundtrack by Philip Glass have a timeless quality, charm and energy of its own.

Runaway Girl

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Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time by Carissa Phelps with Larkin Warren sounds like it is an interesting book. It is memoir in three parts: Part I: Belonging to Self,  Part II: The People with the Snow Globe and Part III: True Self.

From the age of twelve, Carissa has been a runner: she ran away from home, from school, from a drug addict and from one pimp to another, until she met a kind teacher and counsellor. And she grew into a confident person, graduating with a law degree and an MBA and works to help homeless and at-risk youths today.

When I read about how Carissa was thrown out by her stepfather on the road to catch the school bus, I was reminded of how my report book was flung out of my home when red ink appeared in my report book for the first time. When she was yelled at at home and called a liar, a tattletale, a big baby and a snitch, and told to “Do what you’re told!”, I was reminded of my childhood and teenage years. But while Carissa firmly believed in Jehovah, I was never religiously inclined, after witnessing what went on around me. And while Carissa had a special affinity for Math, I just could not excel in something that is supposedly logical and linear, predictable and manageable.

Carissa found Junior High to be hateful and confusing, I had difficulty adjusting to  secondary school life; Carissa ran away several times, got drunk, shoplifted but such thoughts never even crossed my mind, even though the loneliness and distress I felt must have been not too dissimilar to what Carissa felt. Carissa got picked up and started tricking because she was hungry, grungy and confused. Thank goodness I wasn’t hungry and the environment in which I grew up must have been so much safer than where Carissa grew up.

The transition for Carissa was awkward, but mine was barely noticeable. Her first marriage unravelled, so did mine, but for different reasons. Her eventual happiness is hard won, so is mine, though in different ways. Her health goes downhill, so is mine, again due to different reasons.

Carissa has learnt about social entrepreneurship and has made a documentary. She gives motivational talks and has learnt that letting go of the hurt from her past is the last step to healing. She realises the value of her suffering and knows that every survivor is unique, and continues to do outreach and advocacy.

This has been a compelling read and comes across as genuine. There are many stories in my life which I will never write, even though a few friends have urged me to “just write”. It is not an understatement to say that writing is not easy. I much prefer reading what other people have written.

 

Interstellar

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I’ve never been keen on science fiction. The only reason for me to finally borrow this 2014 movie is that I’ve seen it around many times and decided to find out what Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn and Michael Caine have to offer.

The story tells of a team of pioneers taking the most important mission in human history. Cooper (McCohaughey) is a widowed engineer and an ex-pilot with NASA who runs a farm with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), son (Timothee Chalamet as young Tom and Casey Affleck as the adult Tom) and daughter (Mackenzie Foy as young Murph and Jessica Chastain as the adult Murph). He is recruited by NASA’s Prof Brand (Caine) and his daughter Dr Brand (Hathaway) to lead an expedition traveling beyond the galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars. By the time he returns (at 124 years, in earth years), his daughter is an old woman nearing death (Burstyne).

Despite the Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, I chose to fast-forward many of the scenes involving the adventure, although I recognise that they are excellent and must have involved tremendous amount of work and time. What impressed me are the music (by Hans Zimmer) and the views of Alberta, Canada and Iceland.  Hans Zimmer’s music is rich and reverberating, and makes the movie seem more colossal.

A surprise is the quote from Dylan Thomas’ poem, Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night, which is wonderful for the intensity and momentum in the plot.

Some Girls: My Life In A Harem

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I was drawn to Some Girls: My Life In A Harem, not only by its exotic cover, but also because it is supposed to be an autobiographical account of author Jillian Lauren’s experiences as one of the paid young female “guests” of the brother of a Sultan of Brunei. I was also keen to find out more about the part that happens in my country because Singapore is mentioned in the blurb.

The Prologue begins interestingly enough: the story of Scheherazade (1001 Nights). Lauren was an NYU theatre school dropout when she heard about an upcoming audition from a casting director. She was told that she would be paid $20,000 by a rich businessman in Singapore. This is the only time Singapore is mentioned. She flies to Brunei instead, and stays there for eighteen months in the harem of the youngest brother of the sultan. Lauren writes about her early years, how she was adopted, how she had an affair with her father, how she became a call girl and a cheat, a dancer/stripper and an escort, and how she finally meets up with her birth mother.

I’m disappointed with the writing; not only is there nothing gripping or striking, it is also almost on the verge of being boring. The author comes across as whining, shallow and superficial. A disappointing read.

The Perfect Storm

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I’ve always looked for movies based on true stories, and The Perfect Storm (2000) has George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg to boot. That it is about an unusually intense storm means I can expect a lot of special and visual effects, stunts and animation, great sets and photography.

Based on a book by Sebastian Junger, the true story is about a group of fishermen in Gloucester in October 1991. Billy Tyne (Clooney), a divorced father of two daughters, is a captain whose crew has to go out to sea shortly after arriving back in port, even though it is during a time when weather conditions can turn dangerous. His crew comprise Bobby Shatford (Wahlberg), Dale Murphy (John C. Reilly), David Sullivan (William Fichtner), Michael Moran (John Hawkes) and Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne). Bobby is young and newly in love with Christina Cotter (Diane Lane), Murphy is a devoted father recently divorced, Sullivan is a guy Murphy despises because of his past involvement with Murphy’s ex-wife, Moran has finally met a woman who likes him and Alfred is a quiet guy. While they are out at sea in the storm, their women wait for them fearfully.

As expected, the special effects are amazing. Every scene is believable and detailed. The ‘props’ are so real that I still cannot believe that “no live fish was used in the making of this film” (and there are plenty of them, big and small)! The strange sounds, the enormous waves and the full fury of the storms that collide and hit at the same time look so harsh and brutal but also realistic and are fascinating to watch.

I also learned quite a bit about fishing and a different lifestyle. It is stressful for relationships and families. They have to face the basic reality of going to sea for a month, as it is their means of survival; it involves a certain level of risk and decision making which can become a matter of life and death.

The music by James Horner, who has a Ph.D in Music Composition and Theory, is spectacular. Like a character, an emotion is created – the theme is warm and human, and the viewer will feel it with every scene. For example, the piano at the beginning is very clam and still, then the different textures show how they help build up the drama until it reaches euphoria and by the end is poignant.

This movie is one good entertainment.

The Magic Circle

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I like to go to the Singapore Collection to look for new publications when I visit the library. My latest find is Charmaine Chan’s The Magic Circle. It’s the first time I’ve come across this author, even though she is a journalist and former Her World features editor. This book is written over ten years and it preserves Charmaine’s memories of her second sister, who passed away within nine months of her cancer diagnosis when she was only 36. It is an especially touching memoir as I recently experienced the loss of a dear friend to cancer too.

Chan recalls a Singaporean childhood and how close the three sisters were growing up, and the bond was strong although they continued their studies and work in three different continents. Her eldest sister Lorraine is eight years older than Charmaine and her second sister Elaine is five years older. Though Lorraine and Elaine are closer in age than Elaine and Charmaine, it seems that Elaine and Charmaine shared a closer relationship, though they were all close to one another.

Elaine fell ill on a work trip to LA. Moving to Hong Kong, Elaine was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer of the bile, rare and aggressive, lethal and incurable. It quickly spread to her liver and lungs. She collapsed at the hospital and needed emergency blood transfusion, yet she remained positive, believing she would beat cancer and then write a book about it. This is so reminiscent of my friend – she too believed she would be able to write and publish her memoir and watch her beloved niece grow up. But the cancer is a hateful tormentor that does strange and dreadful things.

Elaine was in palliative care and kept comfortable and free of pain as she moved back home. Her last phone call sounded listless, confused and despairing. She had trouble swallowing and breathing. When she died, Charmaine was partly relieved that Elaine had been released from her suffering, yet there was a part that could not deal with the fact that she would never see her sister again. All these descriptions are very poignant and real.

People die every day. Elaine would be remembered as she really was. Death is incredible violating. Elaine’s dearest wish was for her 6-year-old daughter to remember her, and Charmaine and Lorraine would give her memories of Elaine. The memoir that my friend has left behind would be edited and published as a legacy to her beloved niece.