Batch Review #8

The UnthinkableThe Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why by Amanda Ripley
Whew, what a long title. But at the same time pretty accurate. A good title should be the essence of the book, and if this book was called The Unthinkable Brain or something with the word brain in it, it would have been perfect.
In short, Amanda Ripley takes us to many, many disaster sites spread across the world (but with the States in more focus). She incorporates interviews with disaster survivors, witnesses, specialists, etc. into the book and tries to explain why certain people survived certain disasters while others didn’t.
It’s a fascinating study. (It’s also short, so don’t be daunted by the sometimes-density of the book.) There is quite a lot of brain-talk. I don’t know if it’s the journalist part of her, but Amanda Ripley has the ability to paint the scenes quite vividly. Sometimes she takes on the voice of the all-knowing and foreboding; sometimes she follows a certain person’s perspective.
In the end it’s almost never boring, she doesn’t try to pretend to know every answer, and it makes me feel a little bit safer to have read the book. It probably won’t save me from a plane crash – but then again, it just might.

Night Shift & Night ShadowNight Shift by Nora Roberts
Surprisingly sweet and passionate and dangerous. Also very touching, they are so…. drenched in love.
Cilla (short for Priscilla) is a living contradiction – confident and brisk, fun and smoldering on the outside, frazzled nerves and heaps of insecurities on the inside.
Boyd started out as the sexy-hunk-type but evolved into thoughtful, bossy, banter-loving and stupid-in-love-type.
The next four books are about Deborah, Althea, Natalie and Ally Fletcher, Cilla’s and Boyd’s daughter.

Night Shadow by Nora Roberts
Wasn’t as good as the first book; maybe because I’d expected Cilla and Boyd to be in this one but no, Deborah has moved from Denver. She’s less lively than in Night Shift and the male character reminds me oddly of Roarke from In Death series minus the honesty.

AliciaAlicia by Lisi Harrison
I’d never thought the day would come, but here it is: Poor Alicia! No no, I don’t mean she’s poor, but that I feel empathy for her. And why, the sly thing, there’s no mention of ¡i! in Bratfest at Tiffany’s! (Well, almost none.) I don’t have much recollection about The Invasion of the Boy Snatcher, but I remember really disliking Nina. I still did for the most part of the 110-page book. I hated the twins from beginning to end.

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For the first time I’m feeling I can live as myself…

I’ve never felt more “adult” like I am feelin’ now.

For the first time in my life, I’m truly independent in every aspect but financial. I do not wish to imply that the financial aspect isn’t important! In fact, some people may view it as the most important. I do, too… but some people can’t live alone or take care of themselves even if they do have the money.

A week or so ago I wrote about my low self-esteem and how worthless I feel because my academic life is at its lowest, which in turn makes me almost hate studying. Argh. It’s complicated. Anyway. I felt like with my academic success taken away, I couldn’t be proud of myself.

And I’ve proved myself wrong.
In the last 46 hours, I’ve been completely alone – without my family, without friends. But I wanted to be alone. I needed to be alone. My Dad thankfully understood my need and didn’t even phone me. I called him today morning when I felt I was ready.
In these hours, I’ve viciously attacked every inch of dust in the house, vacuumed and scrubbed the floor, cleaned the bathroom, re-arranged stuff, taken care of four meals and done the dishes.

I probably sound like a spoiled brat. Well, I am a terribly spoiled child/adult. The combination of Asian family + youngest child + girl often leads to being spoiled; if you are Asian, you’d understand. If you aren’t, maybe you still can. Or can’t. Either way’s fine with me.

The thing is, I knew I’d be okay living by myself. Sure, loneliness would sneak up on me every now and then. But I have uni. I have casual friends. My family is still reachable.
And yet it is such a huge step. I guess I’ve been fretting about it for quite some time. But when push came to shove, so to speak, my brain went right on survival mode. I haven’t procrastinated anything but my school work. But it feels so good. This being-able-to-take-care-of-myself thing. I also love it that I for the first time in my life have complete freedom regarding the space, the food, the schedule. With freedom comes responsibility, and I make sure to hold my freedom in check my dutifully going after my responsibilities.

The only thing that bothers me is silence. I’ve watched BBC’s Pride & Prejudice while eating (so much for not watching telly during meals). I’ve cranked up Taylor Swift while cleaning the bathroom. I’m listening to music (obnoxious, chauvinist lyrics with passable melody) right now. And I’m feeling fine. I also feel like a Korean and a German and an English-speaker (not enough cultural influence from either the GB or USA – just linguistic influence). Aaaand… I’m not afraid to own it. Even if my family should happen to stumble upon this blog, I’d be a bit embarrassed but at the same time I’d own my thoughts and activities with my chin held high.

I am eternally grateful for my financial backers for making my life so much comfortable. I know I could write today’s post because of them. Feeling empowered from cleaning house doesn’t mean a thing if you are tight on money and always worrying about how to save a bit more.
But maybe I should stop thinking that they are only doing this because they want me to study. No, I would like to believe that they want me to live. There’s so much more that belongs to living than having your nose buried in your textbook.

And I’m happy right now.

Prequel Review: Charmed and Dangerous

Charmed and DangerousCharmed and Dangerous: The Rise of the Pretty Committee
A Clique prequel
by Lisi Harrison
first published in 2009
I think it was my (rather impatient, I might add) waiting for the Clique summer books that made me grab this prequel again.
The thing with these books is that you catch yourself rooting for the main characters even when they are being incredibly spoiled and selfish. In the case of this prequel, it’s rather “spoiled rotten” part for Massie and Dylan.
It was quite amusing to see Massie scramble around in her Beta-position while still managing to maintain her air of the cool, sophisticated and fashionable (she’s all of nine years old, for frigging out loud). But this is before she moved to OCD or met her BFFs, so more of her insecurities shine through.
Now, Dylan is the first one to encounter Cam Fisher and Derrick Harrington, and she’s sick of her sisters fretting about their weight. What she doesn’t know is that she’s been duped, too… Dylan is her characteristic fun-loving self. Probably the most child-like.
Alicia is already very ambitious and beautiful, and I love the way her father adores her.
Kristen, the smart and soccer-star who will manage to hide her financial situation from everyone for the next three years, is surprisingly tender-hearted and insecure compared to the vicious tongue we first meet in The Clique.
Claire, on the other hand, is still in Orlando with her three best friends, Sari, Mari and Mandy, blissfully unaware of everything that is going to happen in couple years. And yet she manages to get in trouble and indirectly in touch with the other Clique members (her membership was foretold by Hermia anyway). And she acquires the gold charm that will cause Massie so much trouble in The Clique.

Best read when you are already quite familiar with the dynamics of these five characters and more, so at least after The Pretty Committee Strikes Back – that would be my recommendation for the minimum of knowledge. But the prequel was published after Book #11, Boys R Us.

Batch Review #7

O'Hurley's ReturnSkin Deep by Nora Roberts
I found myself – surprisingly enough – really liking Chantel O’Hurley. She has become a famous actress who often portrays the role of femme fatale, and she takes no shit from anyone. She really warmed my heart when she totally dissed Quinn Doran the chauvinist pig who did change a little throughout the book. Anyway, so when this security expert tells her that as a heart-breaker, she ought to take a few crank calls (uh, make that sick crank calls plus obscene notes plus some wacky ideas of romance) in stride, Chantel totally pins him down, not that he cares.
Chantel looks hard on the surface, but beneath her armor is a soft heart and cool head. By her vulnerability I do not mean anything negative (when did it acquire its negative connotation, anyway?) – it has a feel of openness and generosity in it, although also some hurtful past.
I found the ending a bit too… dramatic. But whatever works.

O'Hurley's ReturnWithout a Trace by Nora Roberts
Mmmm. Trace is not my type. Although it did wonders to me to watch him change thanks to Gillian. I think I bonded with Gillian over her type of relationship to her father – I totally get that. Like, not the follow-my-footsteps kind, but the just-not-loving thing.
Without a Trace was parts boring and parts fascinating because it was my first second Nora book about an intelligencer and while I do think that the ending was way too easy, I enjoyed the masquerade and the travels quite a lot.

 

 

Virgin RiverVirgin River by Robyn Carr
So I have this picture of a perfect small town, right? Secluded, peaceful, clean, comforting, brimming with nice people and a small cabin filled with books and furnished in a simple yet elegant way.
The cover totally indicates that way, as do the genre (contemporary romance set in a small town!) and the heroine’s first thoughts as she drives there.
Then Robyn Carr sets me right – the cabin is a dump, there is not a smallest sign of a bookstore, or a supermarket, or a clothing store. People are not always friendly and not always up to a talk about medical emergencies (unless they’re a doctor or patients). The nature can be fierce, and there’s a dark side to even the brightest towns.
But as Mel eased into a small-town life, I gradually relaxed, and let the book’s flow carry me.
Two things that kinda bugged me: 1. The references to Grace Valley characters who are June, John, Jim and Susan, and I got the lot confused quite a few times, especially since a one-sentence introduction was all I got.
2. The way Mel so easily found herself even more in love than the first time around in six months’ time. Her grief was totally authentic and heart-wrenching. And then she healed really quickly, which was good to see. Then she decides she is so over her first love already, whom she had loved for five years, because she is more in love with a guy she’s known for six months.
I’m probably not gonna continue the series, at least not anytime soon, but I’m so glad I gave it a chance.

Bratfest at Tiffany'sBratfest at Tiffany’s by Lisi Harrison
So after enduring four books in a row ranging from “meh” to downright “ugh”, I’d vowed off the series. Until one day when I was sitting in my rocking chair, feeling numb because of the cold, and I flipped through The Revenge of the Wannabes. Suddenly I was gripped by the nostalgia that the first three books in the series have provided – the wit, the fun, the ridiculous, the ignorant and spoiled girls who are yet oddly so human. I decided to give the ninth book a chance.
And boy, was it ridiculously fun.
Maybe because Massie put the NPC on a boyfast, which, after the last two books’ headaches, I totally heart. This book’s focus lies in Massie, and to a smaller extent in Alicia and Claire. I somehow missed Massie’s bossiness, her egocentric worries, her action as a fashion diva, her clever comebacks and sarcasm. And her insecurities. I think one of the reasons I have become so fond of her is because she lets me relax in my should-filled thoughts. I can be as “bad” as Massie if it weren’t for my conscience plaguing me. It’s a constant battle between being confident, feeling good, and doing the right thing. Massie is juggling this in her own way, even though I fully admit I’d be horrified if my own daughter acted so without morals and attempts at kindheartedness. (And she knows fashion.)
In het world it’s all about being a social Alpha and maintaining that position. Its simplicity (and yet so crucial to Massie herself) allows me to calm down my own troubles for a while.

Shadow and BoneShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand there is this unique high fantasy setting based on Russia, a wasteland-like Dark Fold that reminds you of yoma-infested countries without their king or queen*, and a villain that is so chillingly scary that it gives you a tug-and-pull kind of reaction. On the other hand, however, we have the first two hundred pages that feel like a long, long prologue. Alina doesn’t wake up until two-thirds in. She rambles and describes her surroundings in painstaking details, but something is missing. Her it is missing – her personality, her self-recognition, her own voice.
The ending came less as a shock than expected, mostly because I automatically suspect any and every new friend the hero / heroine makes.
I’m unsure whether I want to continue with the series. That remains to be seen.

*a reference to Fuyumi Ono’s Twelve Kingdoms series, in case anyone is interested

Litha – Midsummer – Summer Solstice

It’s hard to believe that the Summer Solstice is already upon us!

Even harder to believe is the fact that today is the longest day of the year when I have been cooped up inside, brooding, for weeks. Also, it’s too cold to be in the middle of summer; it’s barely 20 degrees Celsius out there!

So yeah, I’d envisioned my summer to be a lot better than reality that I’m facing now. I’d expected it to be cozy, warm, settled – with me diligently studying away.

It’s such a nice picture to hold in my mind.

Anyway, in truth I’m restless and anxious and picky. I dread the departure of my mother and sister, and at the same time I embrace it. University works – both the subjects and the people – wear me out and leave me grumpy and drained. The last thing I want to do on a weekend is to pick up a law textbook and bury my head in it. Although I know that I should. Especially since the exams are rubbing their hands to pounce on me as soon as July starts. I haven’t even started to figure out how to run a household. And I can’t cook. Yet. (Hopefully it’s a yet, not a never.) I’ve had this cold with me for a month now, and this dreaded thing refuses to go away. Oh, its nerves! It’s just yesterday that I have figured out why I’m so unhappy with myself, my life – well, with everything. Why I felt so brittle, and why everyone’s words were like sharp glass shards cutting into my skin. Why brain refused to work and why I wanted to escape to the dreamless sleep so frequently. Why I felt like on the verge of crying.

It’s a long journey. Hell, life’s a long journey. I’ve just begun it, but sometimes, in the midst of chaos of everything, it’s easy to forget the fact that I’m a human, and that I’ve only begun to live my life. I keep demanding more and more of myself because I figure why should I be able to do all this and more? And I wonder why my load is so heavy.

Yeah, people can be real stupid sometimes.

I have always figured Litha to be the peak of the year. But maybe I could change my perspective so that it’s just another reminder that time has passed and life goes on. That I can pull it through, just like I have in the past and just like I will in the future, countless times.

Sequel Review: 204 Rosewood Lane

First off, I’m so sorry I’ve been MIA for the last twenty (!!) days! It’s complicated, but most of what I could say are excuses anyway. I’m back on track now, or I will be very soon. What I do have in store for you are scheduled posts going up for the next three, four days!

204 Rosewod Lane

 

204 Rosewood Lane
Book 2 in Cedar Cove series
by Debbie Macomber
originally published in 200

After my luke-warm reaction to 16 Lighthouse Road, I’ve been very careful about reading its sequels. I’ve thought about it a couple of times since then, and again and again I’ve declined it. That is, until I had a change of  heart a week ago.

And boy, am I glad I did.

204 Rosewood Lane follows up on almost all the characters from 16 Lighthouse Road: Judge Olivia Lockhart with her budding what-is-it with Jack, who in turn is dealing with his son and their estrangement; Grace Sherman who is left to deal with the disappearance of her husband of over three decades, and whose life another man (try to guess who!) is tentatively trying to enter; Maryellen, Grace’s older daughter, who is still haunted by the past and somehow finds herself in the exact same position as 10+ years ago; Justine and Seth, who are just starting their life together and have so many exciting new things; Charlotte, Olivia’s mother, has a rather small role in this book, but is still paving her way in a cheerful, energetic way; and as new characters we have Rosie and Zach Cox, whose plates are so full that they are constantly taking it out on each other.

I badly needed – wanted – the realism these characters offered. They make stupid decisions. Their lives don’t end at HEA – they have problems. Timings don’t always work out. Family and friends are not always understanding.
Yet they manage to lead their lives, sometimes at their height and sometimes at their low.  And this brings me somehow comfort. To know that I’m not the only one struggling with life (Rationally, I know it all the time in my head, too. But it’s still nice to read about other peoples’ struggles because they provide you perspectives that you might be in need/want of.)
In my review of 16 Lighthouse Road I’ve mentioned that Nora Roberts has spoiled me of other romance novels.
In my review of 204 Rosewood Lane I’m telling you that I’m rebelling against that. Because while Nora is a terrific storyteller and her stories are magical, her characters are sometimes too put-together and perfect. Hers is not a world I wish to enter when I’m feeling insecure about my whole life. Sometimes it helps anyway. Sometimes it doesn’t. And this time is one of those rare times when Nora’s words aren’t a help or a comfort to me.
Debbie Macomber has a different style, but her writing is easy and beautiful in its simplicity. Her characters are sympathetic and exasperating, often in the same paragraph – just like any other human being. Oh, and I’m beginning to love Cedar Cove, the town. Maybe it’s because I’m slowly getting sick of big cities (I’ve lived almost my whole life in them – I’m talking about millions of inhabitants).

So this time I’m definitely continuing with the series, and next up is 311 Pelican Court, the address of Rosie and Zach Cox’.