The Family Way

This is one of Jayne Ann Krentz’s earlier books that I’ve not read. I found a large print copy of it in the library, which makes for easier reading. And as I was to find out, this is more like a better version of a Mills-and-Boons (M&B) romance than the riveting suspense/mystery novel that I’ve come to associate with Krentz.

There is a double entendre to the title – the more common usage to mean ‘pregnancy’ and how a family functions.

The one pregnant is Prudence Kenyon, and the black sheep of the family is Case McCord. Neither makes false threats, and Case is both intimidating and arrogantly forceful. They have cohabited for three months when Prudence discovers she is in ‘the family way’, but decides to leave as Case has made it clear from the start that he does not want marriage.

Like a typical M&B romance (I imagine, as – believe it or not – I’ve never read one before), Case would realise his mistake and marries her and brings her home to meet his family. Then we learn about how he is the black sheep in the family and the secret he has been keeping and the secret the family has been keeping and why he has been in the way of his family all these years, and how everyone in the family is dancing on eggs and juggling dynamite.

And, as in a M&B romance (I imagine, again), there’s a happy ending for all.

 

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The Charmers

Elizabeth Adler has published more than thirty books, most of which I’ve read. The Charmers is the latest.

The premise of the novel is interesting – Mirabella Matthews inherits her Aunt Jolly’s villa in the South of France when her aunt dies unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances. I had expected this to be another of Adler’s fast-paced novels with intriguing suspects; however, despite an element of mystery and danger, it is quite a let-down compared to the others that I’ve read though I could not put the book down until the last page.

I hope the next Adler novel I read would live up to my expectations.

Secrets of a Happy Marriage

I read all of Cathy Kelly’s novels as soon as I find them on the library shelves. Secrets of a Happy Marriage  must be the twentieth – another wonderful novel of secrets, lies and family ties, full of characters I love reading about.

Though I would read any Cathy Kelly book without even glancing at the blurb, I couldn’t resist wanting to know what kind of story to expect; so, when I started reading and found that the first chapter gave no hint of how it is related to the main story, I became more intrigued and decided it must be one of those good reads that do not reveal the main character(s) upfront.

I was right.

The essence of the story is supposed to be about the 70th birthday celebration for Edward, the patriach of the Brannigan clan. Three of the key characters are Bess, Edward’s new wife; Jojo, Edward’s daughter and Cari, Jojo’s cousin. There are many sub-plots and a host of characters all interlinked,  revolving around the themes of family, friendship, love, hope, marriage, bereavement, trust, depression and infertility.  The characters are all very well written and there is drama throughout and the surprise at the end ties up to the beginning so well and is so heart-warming that I felt my eyes growing misty.

Another clever technique that Cathy Kelly employs here is to have a quotation at the beginning of each chapter and then goes on to exemplify it. Some of these are:

  • A diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure. (Henry Kissinger)
  • A second marriage is a triumph of hope over experience. (Samuel Johnson)
  • Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. (Dalai Lama)
  • Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first, and the lesson afterward. (Oscar Wilde)
  • Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life. (Photographer Bill Cunningham)
  • Kind words will unlock an iron door. (Irish proverb)
  • When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. (Maya Angelou)
  • Learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else. (Leonardo da Vinci)
  • New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. (Lao Tze)
  • May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. (Nelson Mandala)
  • The most effective way to do it is to do it. (Amelia Earhart)

Then, there are chapters that come with tips for a happy marriage, eg.

  • Perfect true love exists only in fairy tales. In regular life, tempers get frayed, princes forget birthdays and princesses somehow end up doing more of the housework! Take the fairy tale out of the equation and things will improve.
  • Compromise saves marriages. The thing is, compromise works two ways. If one person is always making the compromises, the relationship is not in balance…
  • Resentment increases at a rate faster than compound interest. The compound interest, the tiny thing you resented two years ago? It’s a giant wolly-mammoth-sized resentment now. Get it out into the open early before the compound interest gets at it.
  • Never underestimate kindness. Being kind to the person you love is worth more than a hundred gifts. Kindness makes us feel loved,  supported and appreciated.
  • There’s magic in marriage. It can happen in a heartbeat and it runs like a river of life through your veins. It’s infinitely precious, and it needs nurturing.

I look forward to the next Cathy Kelly book.

 

Book : Fortunately, I’m Not a Girl with Perfect Score

I attended the launch of this book on Mother’s Day (14/5/17), and wrote about it in this blog. I was very excited when this book was eventually on the shelves in the library for loan. Somehow, it took me longer than expected to finish reading it and I realised I could have done without reading it and know what it is all about. Except that Xiaohan’s style of writing kept me hooked from beginning to end.

Written like a journal to her pre-teen daughter, Ashley Koh, it has 18 chapters, on topics like

  • Beauty (where she talks about her skin affliction, how her inability to perspire easily means no weight loss despite careful dieting, how children from a poor background better understand the value of money &, most importantly, there’s no reason girls can’t do what boys can do);
  • Friends (which can be classified into 3 groups : casual, acquaintance & colleagues; and how the social circle – with family – is like a rubber band);
  • School (which prepares for work and life);
  • Opposite Sex (which attract by PEA, i.e., Pheromone);
  • Health (about how the digital world is messed up);
  • Parents (who are always there to nurture and protect);
  • Dreams (and the need to work hard);
  • Letting Go (about how success is a dream, and like a dream, unreal; Rejection is real, truth and practical; We need reality to determine if our dream could survive);
  • Career (Success is when you’re irreplaceable, like fingerprints that are unique to individuals);
  • Kindness (kind girls are scintillating);
  • Hurt (bullies, like porcupines, are actually afraid of pain);
  • Weakness (admitting one’s weakness is the making of a strong person; Tears are not a weakness but a manifestation of courage; They allow us to express emotions differently from machines; People who’ve suffered from depression are not weak, they are often the strongest, the more positive, the one more people lean on);
  • Singlehood (questioning why people always refer to their spouses as their ‘better half’, as ‘half’ is not a unit);
  • Marriage (why an ugly duckling naturally wants to become a swan);
  • Children (where she recounts how her depression in 2008 resulted in her resigning from her job as a research scientist, and how she wrote the lyrics of Gary Chaw’s Mr Lonely, and how she began writing her book called Teardrops are Capsules – all of which she did for her daughter);
  • Life (about the importance of exercising, the importance of a smile; about how an imperfect life leaves many stories that serve as reference points for writing);
  • Happiness (how ‘half a cup’ is better than ‘half a barrel’);
  • Self (how important it is to find oneself).

Every chapter comes with lyrics of a song Xiaohan has written for singers like Shila, Tanya Chua, Elva Hsiao, Joi Chua, DingDang, Rainie yang, Miing Bridges, William So, A-Lin and more. Each chapter contains either photographs from the past or illustrations by
Xiaohan herself, or both.

Since I do not subscibe to the Chinese daily, Lianhe Zaobao where Xiaohan pens a column regularly, I shall have to wait a while more for her next book to be published.

Snow Falling In Spring

This book, written in 2008 by Moying Li and dedicated to her Grandmother, opens with a poem by Wang Sengru from the Southern Liang Dynasties:

In this memoir, Li tells of a turbulent life in China from the Summer of 1958 in Beijing when she was four years old, till she went to the United States in 1980 aged 26: The Great Leap, Starvation, Lao Lao and Lao Ye (Grandparents), the Gathering Storm, Home No More, House Search, Mongolian Melody, Secret Reading Club, Coming of Age, Hunan Mummy, A Life Assigned, Temple of the Sun, The Awakening, Turning Point and Epilogue.

We not only get a glimpse of her personal experience, but also what the country was going through, such as how China suffered disaster after disaster for three years with the  plague of insects, terrible drought and widespread famine,; how millions of people died of starvation and how food was strictly rationed.

She came of age when only 12, as she witnessed brutal assaults, public humiliations and forced confessions; and even how her headmaster hanged himself. Her Lao Lao was denounced and her father taken away. She found sanctuary in books and literature, despite many schools being forced shut and most books forbidden.

The turning point came in 1976 with the passing of Zhou Enlai.  She was awarded a full scholarship to Swarthmore College near Philadelphia; she was among one of the first groups of Chinese students since 1949 to study in America.

China was the land that had given her birth, love and friendship. It was also the place of her darkest nightmares.

From Clementi to Carnegie

This is the book that Singaporean Siow Lee Chin wrote in 2015 about her journey from her humble home (a HDB flat in Clementi, a suburban residential town named after the British colonial Governer of the Straits Settlements Sir Cecil Clementi Smith; coincidentally, Clementi is also the name of a composer) to Carnegie Hall in New York.

Like Mrs Carmee Lim (Mentor Principal of MindChamps Holdings, and ex-principal of Raffles Girls’ School), I read the book in one sitting. In the Preface are also accolades from seven other prominent persons :Dr Lee Boon Yang, Chairman of Singapore Press Holdings & Kepple Corporation and former Minister for the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts; Almita Vamos, Professor of Roosevelt University Chicago College of Performing Arts and the Music Institute of Chicago; Gary Graffman, former President of Curtis Institute of Music, concert pianist and teacher of notable pianists including Lang Lang and Yuja Wang; Dr Chang Tou Liang, Classical Music Reviewer of The Straits Times and former member of the Board of Directors of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO); Andrew Lim, Creative & Music Doirector and Producer & Presenter of Symphony 92.4FM; Dr Tan Chin Nam, Chairman of Temasek Management Services; Peter Crookes, Professor of Surgery, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.

This memoir gives more than reading pleasure; it is inspirational and contains some valuable advice for everyone:

Perfect music is more than just playing notes. While not everybody will become a concert artist, the lessons learnt from cultivating the discipline required to perfect our passion, and having the faith to persevere through setbacks are valuable takeaways that will carry us through life. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, said at the inauguration of the Victoria Concert Hall in 1980: “The best musicians begin training from the age of 3 to 5. It is a long and rigorous road, even for the gifted. Few gifted Singaporeans, with such good minds, ear and touch, will want to chance their career in music. Any person with a mind of committing 120 20-minute pieces to memory, and a deft touch, can easily meet the demands of more traditional professions; they can become surgeons, doctors, lawyers or engineers, professions which provide a rewarding life, without continually disciplined efforts.”

Siow’s first teacher was her father, who taught her that “the loudest and the flashiest piece wasn’t always the best; look for beauty in the mundane”. With a flashy piece, all one may think about is playing the notes; a lyrical piece, however, teaches patience – an essential virtue in life. A CD (Songs My Father Taught Me) that Siow recorded in 2009, is a tribute to her father, and was at the top of the classical charts at HMV store at the time. (And I have an autographed copy!)

Siow was the youngest musician with the SSO when a guest soloist, American violinist Aaron Rosand, asked her to play something for him during a rehearsal. When he heard her warming up with a cadenza instead of some scales, he immediately offered her a place to study at Curtis Institute of Music. (She also auditioned for and was offered a place at the Julliard School in New York around the same time. She chose Curtis.)

From early on, Siow had been taught to hold herself to the highest standards. There are no short cuts; never have been, never will be. From the legendary Romanian maestro Sergei Celibidacha: If you have very little potential, no matter how much you practise, it doesn’t matter. The better you are, the more you need to practise. If you have a lot of talent, all the more you need to practise. Stage performances look effortlesss because you are supposed to have worked out all the knks when you practise. Another teacher, Felix Galimir (who studied with the legendary Carl Flesch whose scale system is still the “Bible” for violinists and whose own scale exercises took two-and-a-half hours from start to finish, expecting his students to practise these every day) told her: By definition you are already a masochist by choosing to be in this profession. Musicians have to keep striving, and there’s no guarantee you will make it. Scales are like mundane exercises at the gym; but if you have the fortitude to work through them without giving up, there is no doubt that you will be able to see and hear the difference with every passing day.

Technique is important the way grammar is important in language. One should master musical technique in order to serve the music, to understand that it is a means to an end, so that a powerful musical statement can be delivered faultlessly, one which would resonate with the audience and move them.

Preparing for a (music) competition is not unlike preparing for the Olympics. What matters is how you pick yourself up again. This is the real challenge for a musician. You’ll never know when success is right around the corneer. Life is full of serendipitous surprises. Students look to a teacher for psychological and emotional support because great music involves the whole being – mind, body and soul. As a musician, one quickly learns how to acquire the mental strength to carry on despite stumbles. (Whether in front of a hall full of people, or when an accident occurs – like Siow’s car accident which left her with two broken bones in her left hand, or when there are health issues – like Siow’s brush with cancer.)

Through her experiences, from the humourous to the harrowing, Siow has learnt that when things fall apart, they will come together again. The journey is far from over, and I hope she will write another memoir in the next decade or so.

At the end of the book, Siow shares that the scale is her metaphor for the basic priciples of life:

C   Create your own opportunities. Be proactive.

D  Do not worry about the harvest. Keep sowing, and the rest will take care of itself.

E   Explore new things. Take on challenges that scare you.

F   Follow your inner voice. Don’t follow the herd.

G   Go back to your source.

A   Always be prepared. You never know when Lady Luck will come knocking.

B   Beauty is in the mundane. To perform your best, you first need to nail the basics.

A Game of Chance

Unlike the previous Linda Howard novels that I’ve read, this one took me more than two weeks to finish.

Chance Mackenzie is on a covert operation – trying to capture the terrorist Crispin Hauer. He plans to do this by following Hauer’s daughter Sonia Miller, suspecting that she works for her father and she is the key to locating Hauer. Chance sets a trap and gets himself and Sonia stranded in a canyon, hoping to find out more about Hauer. Instead, he discovers that Sonia and her sister have been running from her father since she was five, and that he is also a pervert and child molester. So Chance decides to formulate a game plan, using Sonia as bait to get to Hauer. Eventually, Hauer is eliminated and Chance and Sonia start a family of their own…

Even though Howard writes with the same kind of flair as for her other stories (full of emotion, tension, sensuality & suspense), it is still just another romance drama. Perhaps I’m getting on in years and should give this genre a rest (at least for a while)?!