Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Getting Things Off My Chest: A Survivor’s Guide to Staying Fearless and Fabulous in the Face of Breast Cancer by Melanie Young


5 stars for Getting Things Off My Chest: A Survivor’s Guide to Staying Fearless and Fabulous in the Face of Breast Cancer by Melanie Young.

Though I read both fiction as well as non-fiction books, I invest a lot less time on the latter. This is because my love for imaginary stories that do not actually exist far exceeds that for prose writing that is informative or factual. Thus I will rather devote my precious personal time to reading stories created specially for works of fiction than on facts or real events.

So why this book and specifically one that revolves around breast cancer? This is because one of my peers, a sweet-natured girl, bade farewell to the world this year due to this disease. She was diagnosed with breast cancer during her third pregnancy in 2013. Following the birth of her son and treatment, my friend was given a clean ​bill of ​health by the ​doctor. But in late 2014, she suffered a relapse. She fought a good fight but finally succumbed to breast cancer in July this year. She was survived by her husband and three children, the oldest child 9 years of age and the youngest one barely 2 years old. The diagnosis of cancer, recurrence and subsequent passing of my friend comes as a shock to many of us; after all, she is still in her prime.

According to the American Cancer Society, a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem, about 1 in 8 United States women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. In 2015, an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States and about 40,290 women are expected to die from it, respectively making breast cancer the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women, right after skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. At this point in time, there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, including women who are in treatment or have completed it. (Source: What Are the Key Statistics about Breast Cancer? Last modified on 10 June 2015)

On 9 August 2009, author Melanie Young - owner of a wine and food marketing and special events business - is diagnosed with Stage IIA breast cancer and effectively becomes the "1 in 8". Because of her ordeal with breast cancer, she writes Getting Things Off My Chest in hope of letting her book play the role of a breast cancer mentor that prepares those diagnosed with this cancer on what to expect. Based on the author's experience as well as that of other survivors, the book combines practical and useful survivor's tips for facing cancer head-on, handling diagnosis and managing treatment.

I will not say that I have enjoyed reading Getting Things Off My Chest because it is just so inappropriate. Instead, I will say this; I take my time to read and digest the information, facts, advice and sharing in Getting Things Off My Chest. This book works exactly as intended by the author, as a comprehensive survivor's guide to staying fearless and fabulous in the face of breast cancer. It opens my mind to the many questions-to-ask and options-to-discuss as posed by the author. It provides a candid illustration of what it feels like to find oneself in an unchartered territory called 'Cancer Land'. It gives very good advice on using energy positively to focus on fighting the cancer, getting through the treatment and living the rest of your life in a way that minimises the risk of recurrence.

Having finished the book, I have a much better understanding of the - emotional, mental and physical - trauma and pain that my friend and her family must have undergone. The book has also up my knowledge of this cancer which can secretly creep into any woman's life and catch her unaware - until it is too late - if she allows it so by overlooking regular self-examination and/or recommended yearly mammogram (for those above 40 years old).

Publisher: Cedar Fort, Inc.
Publication date: 10 Sep 2013

*** Favourite quote 1 ***

You can visit doctors for medical advice, but it takes a real survivor to provide the life essentials for getting you through a breast cancer diagnosis, or any cancer diagnosis.

*** Favourite quote 2 ***

Ask the right questions, get the right facts, and decide, along with your team of medical advisors, how to keep yourself healthy.

*** Favourite quote 3 ***

Life is not about how many breaths you take, but about how many moments take your breath away.

~ Getting Things Off My Chest: A Survivor’s Guide to Staying Fearless and Fabulous in the Face of Breast Cancer
Melanie Young

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Melanie helps you navigate your breast cancer journey with this all-inclusive guide filled with helpful survivor’s tips and expert advice. Complete with checklists geared toward streamlining your new life, this book helps you ask the right questions, make informed decisions, eliminate stress,  boost your spirits, eat and exercise for your health and look and feel your best during and after treatment. Don’t let your cancer control you! Empower yourself; stay focused; keep your sense of humor and ease the transition with this book.

This is a witty, helpful handbook on health-nutrition-beauty-cancer management 101 for women who don’t what to be confined or defined by their diagnosis and who want to make smart decisions about managing their well-being.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz


4.5 stars for Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz.

Project 17. This is one book I set my eyes on right after I have finished reading the Dark House series - book 1 Welcome to the Dark House and book 2 Return to the Dark House - by author Stolarz. For the reason that I so enjoy the Dark House series, I search for and read up on the blurb of all the other books penned by this same author; among which is this book, Project 17, which simply screams at me to be read. And so, I tell myself that the next book by author Stolarz that I shall read will be Project 17. By sharing this review, I am glad to say that I have not let myself down.

In terms of story presentation and way of narration, I will say that Project 17 is very similar to the Dark House series. But as much as similarities go, that is just about it. Project 17 is very much a story on its own with no lack of originality. The first-person narratives – by the six different characters – are well thought-out and take the reader on a journey from Salem High School to a place which is closed down more than ten years ago. Slowly but steadily, the author builds the story towards its climax while at the same time, does a great job keeping the reader deep in suspense. Yes, I get hooked to this spine-tingling story from the moment I start reading.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Six of them; each with a different reason. They go to Danvers State Hospital (DSH), the old abandoned asylum at the peak of a hill, with the intention of spending one night there before the place is demolished to make way for condos and luxury apartments. Little does any of them know how haunting the experience is going to be; how the experience will come to change their lives. Forever. For there is something bigger going on there than just abandoned huge brick buildings with tons of pointed roofs and steeples, and debris.

Credit Roll
Derik LaPlaya LaPointe
Elizabeth Blackwell Miller aka Liza
Miriam aka Mimi aka Halloween
Greta aka Ashley Barbosa
Tony Cassis
Chet

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; Reprint edition
Publication date: 9 Jun 2009

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High atop Hathorne Hill, near Boston, sits Danvers State Hospital. Built in 1878 and closed in 1992, this abandoned mental institution is rumored to be the birthplace of the lobotomy. Locals have long believed the place to be haunted. They tell stories about the unmarked graves in the back, of the cold spots felt throughout the underground tunnels, and of the treasures found inside: patients' personal items like journals, hair combs, and bars of soap, or even their old medical records, left behind by the state for trespassers to view.

On the eve of the hospital's demolition, six teens break in to spend the night and film a movie about their adventures. For Derik, it's an opportunity to win a filmmaking contest and save himself from a future of flipping burgers at his parents' diner. For the others, it's a chance to be on TV, or a night with no parents. But what starts as a playful dare quickly escalates into a frenzy of nightmarish action. Behind the crumbling walls, down every dark passageway, and in each deserted room, they will unravel the mysteries of those who once lived there and the spirits who still might.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan


1 star for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

I have always been envious of people whose jobs allow them close proximity to libraries or bookstores and needless to say, books. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I read this novel for it gives me the perception of possessing the control to close the distance between myself and bookstores, at least for the duration of my reading.

The novel kicks off on sympathetic grounds with economic downturn leading to the protagonist, Clay Jannon, being made jobless after less than a year of employment as a website designer in a startup bagel shop located in San Francisco. One day, as he follows the HELP WANTED signs on display windows, he suddenly finds himself the legitimate employee of Mr. Penumbra, owner of a 24-hour bookstore. Oh, how I will love to swap places with Clay, to work in a bookstore, never mind that his is almost a graveyard shift.

Mr. Penumbra's bookstore, though operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is not opened around the clock to cater to demands of overwhelming customers. In fact, book buyers are so rare that Clay feels more like a night watchman than bookstore helper.

Clay soon learns that Mr. Penumbra's bookstore is, in fact, two stores in one; the normal bookstore with new and shiny books up front and the not-so-normal bookstore dominating the back half of the - real - store with old and dusty backlists which caters to an exclusive clientele.

Together with the three creepy job requirements agreed to on his day of hire, Clay finds himself lending strange books to strange scholars in the middle of the night. In time, Clay realises that the bookstore he is working in is no ordinary bookstore but something more. Then out of the blue, Clay is asked to go on a quest to unlock secrets. Lost ancient secrets.

The story starts out promising with an air of mystery about a bookstore that never sleeps. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a downhill journey as I travel alongside the characters. In my opinion, the author has great ideas on writing a story with a bookstore as the backdrop but somehow somewhere along the way, that focus is lost together with poor character development.

When our lead character, Clay, meets up with Kat, a bright and bubbly girl who works in Google as a data visualisation programmer, to discuss about extracting information from the bookstore logbooks, I have a premonition that it is going to be over for me. True enough, from that point on, the plot revolves around Google at best and evolves into an advertisement for Google at worst. Well, I am proud to say that I manage to pull through another seventy pages or so of the paperback before closing the book on Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

Frankly speaking, I want to like this book. I really do. But sometimes we have to choose between turning the page and closing the book, in which case, I know I have tried my best before deciding on the latter at slightly less than halfway mark of the book. For that matter, this book becomes a Did Not Finsh in the strict sense of the word. So I flip to the last couple of pages, get done with reading and pass it off as finished with large chunks of text skipped.

Finally, I like to say all is not lost. I do like the book cover. See those vertical, horizontal and slanting yellow rectangular blocks that represent books on a bookshelf? They glow in the dark!

Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 24 Sep 2013

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The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store.

Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

*Blurb from Goodreads*

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: Dead City (Dead World #1) by Joe McKinney


4.5 stars for Dead City (Dead World book 1) by Joe McKinney.

I have always thought that I have seen enough zombie movies to last me a lifetime though I can easily count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have watched such shows. Due to this reason which I am not even sure how it originates, I have not the inclination to actively seek out books related to the walking dead. So, it is by pure luck that I chance upon the Dead World series.

To be honest, I am a little put off by the not-so-appealing picture of a book cover on Dead City. While the cover picture is typical and illustrative of its content, it does neither to excite nor guarantee me a good story. The good thing is, I have long since learnt that sometimes the best of a story can hide behind the facade of a not-so-attractively designed book cover. With this in mind, I put my luck and chance to work and suddenly find myself coming to life in this city of the dead and living a series of nightmares through the eyes of lead character, Officer Eddie Hudson.

It all starts with hurricanes. Mind you, not one but five major hurricanes that hit the City of Houston - less than 250 miles away from San Antonio where eventually all actions take place - in a span of four weeks. What follows in the wake of these extremely large, powerful and violent storms is flooding, debris and death; basically, destruction beyond our worst imagination.

Dead City, fast-paced and action-packed, is a story so utterly engaging that even with knowing it to be a tale of horror and terror has not stopped me from reading it late into the night and scaring myself silly. Once the lights are out, I literally jump into bed and cover myself up with a blanket. Yes, the zombies in Dead City are genuinely scary; though the rational part of me says there are no zombies in the real world, I cannot help that my imagination takes on a life of its own and runs wild.

For a debut novel running on the theme of horror, the writer has unquestionably hit the nail on the head and made an impressive impact. The writing is smooth and the story flows realistically well, so much so that I feel as if I am one with the protagonist facing off the undead with brutality, bloodshed and gore; something straight out of a nightmare.

Reading Dead City feels like watching the transformation of humankind from a pleasant dream to a dream gone horribly wrong. I like the story so much that I find myself singing its praises to friends alike. The only plaint I have is the final event leading to the wrap up of the story, which in my opinion, is a tad too good to be true in the apocalyptic destruction of the Lone Star State.

Through the story, the author also raises thought-provoking questions about humanity, about life and death.

First, there is this question that revolves around the subject of consciousness. How much of it do the undead have left? If they retain even a tiny fraction of cognizance, should they be guilty of attacking the living? Second, should the zombie or even a near-zombie be arrested for killing and eating somebody? Should the uninfected shoot the undead in self-defense or in pre-emptive attempt for fear of being attacked? Third, do the livings have an obligation to contain the infected and find a cure for whatever virus is plaguing them? Or should they take the utilitarian approach and kill all the infected before they have a chance to spread the virus to the rest of the world? Indeed, the legal and ethical issues brought up by the author are food for thought.

All things considered, this adrenaline pumping novel of horror in first person narrative is worth every minute of my time reading. I will highly recommend it to those of you - not for the faint-hearted - who are seriously up for a horror challenge.

Publisher: Pinnacle; Reprint edition
Publication date: 1 Oct 2010

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Battered by five cataclysmic hurricanes in three weeks, the Texas Gulf Coast and half of the Lone Star State is reeling from the worst devastation in history. Thousands are dead or dying--but the worst is only beginning. Amid the wreckage, something unimaginable is happening: a deadly virus has broken out, returning the dead to life--with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. . .

The Nightmare Begins
Within hours, the plague has spread all over Texas. San Antonio police officer Eddie Hudson finds his city overrun by a voracious army of the living dead. Along with a small group of survivors, Eddie must fight off the savage horde in a race to save his family. . .

Hell On Earth
There's no place to run. No place to hide. The zombie horde is growing as the virus runs rampant. Eddie knows he has to find a way to destroy these walking horrors. . .but he doesn't know the price he will have to pay. . .

*Blurb from Goodreads*

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Review: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach


2.5 stars for Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.

This timeless classic comes recommended by one of my reading buddies; one who is blessed to have been gifted a copy of the book - the original edition which is comprised of three parts - by an uncle more than twenty years ago. Initially, I thought Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the author's name but realise soon enough that it is but the title of the book. Though not as fortunate as my friend who is the happy owner of the original edition, I consider myself lucky to come into possession albeit a temporary one of The complete edition which includes the rediscovered Part Four and 'Last Words' by the author.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a short story with seagulls as characters, conveying a moral. It centers on Jonathan, an extraordinary bird, a gull that searches for a meaning, a higher purpose for life, a reason to live, to discover, to learn and to break free of the thousand years of tradition - scrabbling after food scraps - which the rest of the flock of seagulls follow day after day without question, without fail.

This inspirational fable about seagulls, freedom and their love of flying teaches us that there is more to life than is, if only we are willing to see with our eyes, listen with our ears and feel with our hearts instead of merely being contented to watch, hear and touch. Very often, we cannot see beyond what is because we have, unconsciously or deliberately, limit ourselves to fear - of the unknowns - or rituals or superstitions or any other form of limitation.

I am glad that the copy I have on hand is the complete edition because I cannot imagine myself coming to the end of the story at Part Three. Though Part three ends on a high note, it feels incomplete as if something is amiss. The rediscovered Part Four certainly makes the story whole. Have I mentioned how I like the ending? Head out to get hold of a copy of the complete edition if you haven't yet and you will understand why.

Live your life, let go - of boredom, fear and anger - and embrace youself; the choice is yours to make, the freedom yours to choose.

Publisher: Scribner; Reissue edition
Publication date: 21 Oct 2014

*** Favourite quote 1 ***

Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?

*** Favourite quote 2 ***

...one's body being nothing more than thought itself...

*** Favourite quote 3 ***

Don't believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you'll see the way to fly.

~ Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Richard Bach

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This book is a song for spirits who have lived so long and so quietly by themselves. Jonathan Seagull is a story for one who knows that somewhere there’s a higher way of living than scuffing the tracks of others, someone who yearns to fly the way their own heart yearns to fly.

It’s a reminder, this little fable, that the path for us to follow is already written within, that it's for each of us to find our own loves, and live them brightly for ourselves. Others may watch, they may admire our resolution or despise it, but our one freedom is for us to love and to choose every day of our lives, as we wish.

*Blurb from JonathanLivingstonSeagull.com*

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Review: After You (Me Before You #2) by Jojo Moyes


3.5 stars for After You (Me Before You book 2) by Jojo Moyes.

It seems like yesterday that I cry my heart out when I flip to the last page of the highly acclaimed novel, Me Before You. At that time, I feel as if a part of me has died alongside the ending of a story that revolves around a quadriplegic. No, it is not simply a case of suffering from a book hangover, it is much more; it is the emotional trauma – sadness, helplessness and loneliness - of being forced to accept the cruel reality of an ending which until today, I still find hard to accept.

Since finishing said novel, I have - more than anything - gladly added author Jojo Moyes to my list of favourite writers. From then on, I have been keeping tabs on this journalist turned novelist with regard to any of her new and upcoming book releases. When I first perceive news of a sequel to Me Before You, I am like 'OMG! A sequel!! There will be a sequel!!!'; the certainty that the author is turning - and has for real, made - the standalone novel into a series is like a dream come true for me.

After You is very much a story about moving on and having second chances. It is a soul searching, heart touching first person account of the same protagonist, 26-year old Louisa Clark aka Lou, of how she attempts to make peace and pick up the broken pieces of what remains of her life ever since the catastrophic, life-changing event 18 months past.

No journey out of grief is straightforward. There are good days and bad days to be had. Lou needs to ask herself what she wants with her life and figure out what needs to be done to achieving it. But instead, she finds herself asking the - real - question: how long does it take to get over the departure of someone she really loves?

Having read and finished After You, I am not sure if I am as happy as I am supposed to be before I even touch the book. Perhaps it is the setting or the storyline or the way a particular new character is introduced and thrust into the spotlight to create story continuity or all of the above, I feel as if I am watching the follow-up to a Taiwanese romance drama where the bombshell which is the equivalent of the new character designed to create continuity and chaos is revealed.

In all honesty, I have an awful lot of mixed feelings regarding this sequel to Me Before You. On one hand, I am ecstatic that the author continues with the telling of Lou's story, on the other hand, I am sorely disappointed that this story is not as intense as I have expected it to be. The way I see it, this sequel is written with the fans of Me Before You in mind, more so to satisfy their whims and curiosity of what happen to Lou in the aftermath of the life-altering event.

Truth be told, right before I read book 2 After You, I secretly harbor the thought of taking back what I have previously written in my review: how is the author going to be able to write another story that can excel Me Before You? The fact that I even think about swallowing my words goes to show what high hopes I have for this sequel. That said, in the end, I stay true to my earlier review that the author has indeed set the bar so high up when she pens Me Before You that she has yet - in my opinion - to outdo her own writing.

Very often, the story that leaves the deepest imprint in its wake, is not one where there is a happily ever after but one that encompasses a sad love story where it brings home the painful reality that sometimes love alone is not enough. In that sense, I cannot help but keep thinking that it may have been for the best if the author has simply left it at that; a standalone novel instead of expanding on the thereafter.

My sentiments aside, in all fairness, the author has done a great job with seeing, feeling and dealing with grief through Lou. Likewise, the writing is fluid; it blows life into each of the characters as they come alive and leap out of the pages in unison.

Precisely because of all of the above, I find it exceptionally challenging to give my two pennies' worth of star rating. It is only after much deliberation – where I think I actually manage to kill off my brain cells – that I finally decide to settle on 3.5 stars.

One and a half years ago, I will never have imagined myself reading a sequel, much less giving the book a star rating less than 4. Much as I love the idea of having a follow-up story, why fix it if it ain't broken? Well, I suppose if the fix can be as intense as the previous, if not mind-blowing sequel of epic proportions, then by all means Yes! If not, it will only break the heart of a fan (me) who so loves the story of Lou and Will.

Heart-rending as it is, I rather choose to live with the devastation in having to accept Will's choice towards the end of Me Before You over a sequel with Lou alone. True.. the Earth will not stop rotating, life will still go on and Lou deserves the chance to pursue her own happiness and move on but it just seems so wrong to have the story continuing in a world without Will.

Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 24 Sep 2015

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When one story ends, another begins . . .

Lou Clark has lots of questions.

Like how it is she’s ended up working in an airport bar, spending every shift watching other people jet off to new places.
Or why the flat she’s owned for a year still doesn’t feel like home.
Whether her close-knit family can forgive her for what she did eighteen months ago.
And will she ever get over the love of her life.
What Lou does know for certain is that something has to change.

Then, one night, it does.

But does the stranger on her doorstep hold the answers Lou is searching for – or just more questions?
Close the door and life continues: simple, ordered, safe.
Open it and she risks everything.
But Lou once made a promise to live. And if she’s going to keep it, she has to invite them in . . .

*Blurb from author's website*

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