Tell Tale

I’ve enjoyed many of Jeffrey Archer’s novels over the years, but haven’t read any recently. I was delighted to find his latest short story collection in the library earlier this week. I finished it in one sitting.

Tell Tale contains thirteen stories – nine of them inspired by true events. Of these, I enjoyed most A Gentleman and a Scholar (a poignant story about one of the first women professors of Shakespeare) and A Wasted Hour (about a young English Literature undergraduate who accepts a ride from an elderly gentleman, with a surprising ending).

I like all five original creations, especially Unique, The Perfect Murder and The Holiday of a Lifetime (which comes with three different endings, all extremely clever). Unique and The Perfect Murder are exactly 100- word (not 99 or 101) stories with a beginning, a middle and an ending, written within 24 hours. This is creatively and effectively done; and is a challenge for any writer!

All the stories contain intriguing and intelligent plots (involving people who are highly relatable, such as stamp collectors, parking attendants and insurance scammers), fascinating characters and are wonderful and witty.

An engaging read!

A Place for Us

A Place for Us is a memoir by disability advocate and psychotherapist Cassandra Chiu. It is part autobiographical and part reflections of her experiences as a blind person. She was the first woman to be a guide dog handler in Singapore. Her guide dog, Esme, was the first guide dog bred and trained to work in Singapore.

This book contains facts and details about their life, the challenges she faced with Esme, and is an eye-opening read.

The strongest message that came across is how society could be cruel and insensitive to the needs of the disabled and what it means to be an inclusive society. Both hardware and heartware are needed for people with disability to get equal access to opportunities in order to realise their potential. Attitudes towards the challenges that disabled people face trying to find their place in the world must change.

Scared Selfless

Scared Selfless by psychotherapist Michelle Stevens is a memoir in which she tells the harrowing story of her childhood abuse and her journey to healing and helping others. Though the horrifying situations and trauma described are horrendous and grotesque, this book is such a page turner that I could not put it down once I started, resulting in fewer hours of sleep last night.

Despite the pain and destruction, and having Disassociative Identity Disorder (aka multiple personalities) as a result of the abuse, the author was courageous and strongly determined on her road to healing, recovery and triumph. It must have been cathartic for her to write the memoir.

People interested in psychology would appreciate this book, which also draws awareness to how easily pedophiles can prey on their target. Her story would educate readers and inspire others.

My Mother the Psychopath

My Mother the Psychopath: Growing Up in the Shadow of a Monster is a gripping memoir by Olivia Rayne (with S.M. Nelson). It is disturbing, heartbreaking and emotionally challenging to read. It must have been terrifying and painful to write. It is incredibly raw and honest but must have been cathartic for Olivia to acknowledge what she had gone through and how it has changed her.

Each chapter begins with a short description of a typical psychopathic trait (such as superficial charm, lack of empathy, need for stimulation, criminal tendencies, pathological lying, cunning and manipulative, failure to accept responsibility, poor behavioral controls, sexual promiscuity, grandiose sense of self, shallow emotional response, callousness, impulsivity and lack of remorse) followed by an example of her life with her mother. These examples are connected from chapter to chapter so the memoir reads like a well written suspense thriller.

The account of her abuse is moving; and her strength is amazing. Olivia comes across as brave and courageous, resilient and strong-willed. She has overcome a most horrific and painful experience. The book has an ending that is inspirational and uplifting.

I discovered that Olivia has written another book titled Silk and Thorne; I hope to be able to read it soon.

Stroke Awareness Talk

In conjunction with the Stroke Awareness Campaign, there was a talk at the Central Public Library yesterday afternoon.

The volunteers gave a very comprehensive and informative talk about what stroke is (a brain attack; brain damage through blockage of blood vessels to the brain or burst of blood vessels in the brain), how to recognize a stroke (eg Face drooping – Arm numbness – Speech difficulty – Time to call for an ambulance), how common stroke is (1 in 4 people suffer a stroke and with 8,000 cases in Singapore every year it is the number one cause of disability and 4th cause of death and can happen to anyone, any age and any time), the consequences of stroke (physical, social, financial, emotional and cognitive), the risk factors (non-modifiable eg age and family history, and modifiable eg high blood pressure, smoking and atrial fibrillation) and how to prevent a stroke.

There was a short Question and Answer session (on mini strokes, other warning signs and causes of stroke etc), after which a stroke survivor shared his experience and seven-year journey in rehabilitation.

A non-smoker and non-drinker who did not have a family history of stroke, Aanandha Sharurajah was a successful 55yo with 450 employees who thrived on work (and hence under a lot of stress) and slept for only 4 hours each night in the six months before the stroke which left him in the Intensive Care Unit for three days and a 3-mth hospital stay that cost $120,000. Besides requiring daily speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, he was wheelchair bound for two years. He is still half paralysed and needs a walking stick but wants to share that stroke is preventable and emphasises on the importance of good sleep, nutrition and exercise.

To this end, he has written a book, My Stroke Journey Since 2012, to be launched in Nov/Dec 2019. I look forward to reading the book.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

I am not a comic book (aka graphic novel) reader but I had wanted to get my hands on this book since its launch in May 2015. I was curious why the National Arts Council (NAC) revoked its grant of $8,000 on the eve of the launch. (Reports said that NAC did so because of “sensitive content”, so I wanted to know what was so sensitive and why NAC had given the grant in the first place.) NAC’s move also sparked controversy and the book’s initial print of 1,000 sold out quickly and it was reprinted.

I was impressed by Sonny Liew’s book. The narratives bring a sense of nostalgia to the many layers of political and economic development; the culture, the events, the details, the drama, the humour and beautiful art all add to the delight and enjoyment of an unique experience (at least, for me).

This book was also released internationally. Besides the Singapore Literature Prize in 2016, the book also won three Eisner Awards (Best Writer/Author, Best Publishing Design, Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia) in 2017. It was also nominated for three other Eisner Awards (Best Letterer, Best Colorist and Best Graphic Album – New), was on many bestselling lists and won other prizes. All well deserved.

Gastric Cancer Forum

I chose to attend the Chinese session of the Gastric Cancer Forum because of the timing, though I’m quite sure I would have enjoyed the English session more because one of the speakers is a specialist from Hong Kong. I prefer Hong Kong accented English to Cantonese accented Mandarin.

Still, the session was interesting and informative. Among the speakers were the Head/Division of Surgical Oncology at the National University Cancer Institute (NUCI) at the National University Hospital, a Senior Consultant at NUCI, a Senior Dietician from Tan Tock Seng Hospital and a cancer survivor who was calm and collected when she gave her testimony.

The topics for discussion include the early signs, causes, risk factors and both the prevention and diagnosis of gastric cancer, the need to have some basic knowledge about the disease, the need for a change in lifestyle, the importance of nutrition, balanced diet and exercise.

This was followed by a mini quiz about nutrition, where three lucky women were picked to answer simple questions and then walked away with prizes that included a frying pan.

The Question and Answer segment was lively and at least 15 questions were asked by members of the audience. Several interesting topics were raised (such as whether Koreans have the highest rate of gastric cancer due to their love for kimchi, the effects of consuming red wine every day for years, fasting, consumption of fruits and supplements, contamination through use of chopsticks and more).

Every attendee was given a bottle of Yakult; I finished mine while on the escalator up to the main concourse (the auditorium was at the basement level). I may include this in my diet. The best thing I took away was diminishing the fear for my upcoming oesophagagastroduodenoscopy and surgery.

The Arts Ambassadors’ Tour

About a month ago, I learnt about volunteering as an Arts Ambassador at the library@esplanade. I was shortlisted and invited to attend their training sessions. Unfortunately the timings clash with my other commitments so I had to decline. However, I was able to attend The Arts Ambassadors’ Tour this afternoon.

Though I have been visiting the library@esplanade regularly since it opened its doors seventeen years ago, today’s tour was an eye-opening experience. I learnt even more about the library, got a hands-on experience in its Silent Jamming Studio, and also enjoyed the session in which two Arts Ambassadors shared their stories and interactions with the performing arts.

I was most impressed with Joo Hock’s poem, An Ode to Musicales:

His read this aloud after talking about his passion for musicals. The activity which preceded this was most interesting!

I would like to attend the Arts Ambassadors’ Tour again, so that I get to meet different seniors and hear them share their different passions for the performing arts (music, dance, film and theatre).

The Girl in the Dark

The Girl in the Dark: The True Story of a Runaway Child with a Secret. A Devastating Discovery that Changes Everything is a recently published fostering memoir by Angela Hart.

This book tells the tale of one of the many children she has fostered over the years with her husband Jonathan. Both have been trained to become specialist carers for “teenagers with complex needs”.

More than a quarter of a century ago, a sweet and young 12-year-old Melissa was placed with them for a few weeks. Melissa had a history of running away from foster care and her last placement was with a friend of the Harts.

Fostering is not easy and it is often a thankless task; and I really take my hats off to these carers. Every child that comes into care comes with a different story. (And the stories of Ryan and Marty are also discussed in this book as their time in the Harts home overlapped Melissa’s.)

With each of these fostering memoirs (like those by Cathy Glass and Casey Watson), I learn something new about the lives of children with different backgrounds. I will continue to scout for these memoirs.

Club Deception

Club Deception by Sarah Skilton is about scandals, secrets, intrigue and murder in an exclusive magicians’ club in Los Angeles. Nothing is what it seems.

I got a glimpse into the depth of tricks and lingo in the world of magicians. It gives an insider look at their fascinating world – full of details about an art form that is often overlooked.

Claire Fredericksson is the Queen Bee of Magician WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends), and the genius behind her philandering husband Jonathan’s award-winning magic show.

Besides tricks and illusions, there is backstabbing politics and strong character development in the sub-plots, which make the story even more interesting and engaging.

I look forward to reading other books by Sarah Skilton.