Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year in Review and 2016 New Year's Resolution

Another year has come and gone.

At the last count, I have reviewed a total of 171 books since my decision on 7 Aug 2014 to dedicate this blog for my reading whims. In case, you are wondering how I manage to read and then write an average of 10 (171÷17 | where 17mths = 5 mths (Aug14-Dec14) + 12 mths (Jan15-Dec15) book reviews a month, allow me to clarify... 71 of these reviews are actually written retrospectively and posted with back value dates, with the earliest review dated as way back as 2 Feb 2014.

Out of the 171 book reviews, 97 of them are reviewed in Year 2014 of which 26 are logged – after Aug 2014 – in the last 4 months of the year. And that leaves 74 books reviewed in Year 2015.

In a nutshell, number of books reviewed in:-

Year 2014 @ 97
Year 2015 @ 74

Friday, December 25, 2015

Review: The Christmas Box (Christmas Box Collection #1) by Richard Paul Evans

5 stars for The Christmas Box (Christmas Box Collection Book 1) by Richard Paul Evans.

Christmas comes but once a year; what better time to read The Christmas Box but during this holiday season of giving and good cheer, of peace and joy.

The Christmas Box is a lovely story. It is sad yet heart-warming, short yet long enough a tale to touch my heart. I like the message the author tries to bring across on the true gift of Christmas and I feel that it depicts the true meaning of Christmas in a wonderfully special way.

Having finished the poignant story, it comes as no big surprise to me that what leaves the deepest impression is the significance of the emptiness of the christmas box; I too will rather it be empty than filled with written letters of love.

The first Christmas gift. Have you ever wondered what it is?

Read this book and it will bring you on an unforgettable journey of discovery. Perhaps some of us may already know the answer but have unconsciously or subconsciously pushed it to the deep recesses of our mind. What is needed is only a short meaningful story such as The Christmas Box to give us a gentle reminder of the true gift of Christmas.

I am aware that The Christmas Box is about the story of a widow and the young family who moves in with her. Little do I know that the young family in question is actually referring to author Evans and his family, until I read the part where the first-person narrator shares that he has married a design student named Keri and soon after, has a daughter whom they named Jenna. I know based on author Evans' acknowledgements in his books that Keri is his wife and one of his daughters is named Jenna. Putting two and two together, I realise that The Christmas Box is a story somewhat based on author Evans' life account.


From what I have read and understood, below are the answers - the why and the how - for the coming into existence of the Christmas Box story.

The Christmas Box is a story written by author Evans as a personal expression of love for his two daughters, Jenna and Allyson. Feeling that his two little girls cannot fully grasp the extent and depth of his love for them until they themselves experience the joy of raising their own children, by which time the relationship between father and daughters may have changed forever, Evans sets out to capture his love for them in words by transforming them into a heart-warming story through the telling of The Christmas Box. He hopes that someday in the future, his daughters will read his book and understand his fatherly love for them.

Having completed his touching story of a widow and the young family who comes to live with her, author Evans proceeds to bound twenty copies to give as Christmas presents to family members and friends. What happens next is totally unexpected yet astoundingly beautiful in itself. Because of the message of hope, miracles and healing inherent in the tale, those same twenty copies find themselves being shared and passed around from hands to hands, families to families, friends to friends.

What begins as a story for two young girls has now spread far and wide to reach people from all walks of life and even more amazingly, strike a chord with readers alike.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 15 Jan 2002

*** Favourite quote 1 ***

Whatever the truth about the origin of the box's magic, it is the emptiness of the box that I will treasure most, and the memory of the Christmas season when the Christmas Box found me.

*** Favourite quote 2 ***

The human life cycle no less than evolves around the box; from the open-topped box called a bassinet, to the pine box we call a coffin, the box is our past and, just as assuredly, our future.

*** Favourite quote 3 ***

They say that time heals all wounds. But even as wounds heal they leave scars, token reminders of the pain.

*** Favourite quote 4 ***

For though it appears empty, to me it contains all that Christmas is made of, the root of all wonder in a child's eyes, and the source of the magic of Christmases for centuries to come.

~ The Christmas Box
Richard Paul Evans


"Whatever the reason, I find that with each passing Christmas the story of the christmas box is told less and needed more. So I record it now for all future generations to accept or dismiss, as seems them good. As for me, I believe. And it is, after all, my story."

So begins "The Christmas Box", the touching story of a widow and the young family who moves in with her. Together they discover the first gift of Christmas and learn what Christmas is really all about. "The Christmas Box" is a Christmas story unlike any other.

*Blurb from Goodreads*

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: The Gift by Richard Paul Evans

5 stars for The Gift by Richard Paul Evans.

Time passes so fast that we often lose track of it. I am glad to still remember with vivid clarity the feeling of hope, faith and sense of peace that decends upon my whole being after reading The Walk series in the beginning of this year. It has not been a deliberate calculated move on my part to start off the year 2015 with a review of book 1 The Walk. But as it happens, I did and enjoyed the story so much that I lapped the whole series up in less than 3 week's time.

As we enter into the holiday season, all I can think of is reading Author Evans' books on healing and sharing. Having started the year with his books, I hope to end it with his stories as well. The Gift, a story about healing, is one of Author Evans' books which I have specially put aside to be read at this time of the year.

The protagonist, Nathan Hurst, has Tourette's syndrome, an inherited neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. Nathan works as an in-house detective for a music chain store, keeping an eye on employees who steal and from getting off scot-free.

Nathan's story begins about a week before Thanksgiving. Having wrapped up his task in settling an employee pilfering at the Philadelphia store, Nathan hurries to catch a flight home to Salt Lake City. Due to bad weather conditions, his two-hour transit in the Denver airport turns into an overnight stay in the airport hotel. It is while queuing up at the help counter that Nathan meets Addison, Elizabeth and Collin; the trio who touches his heart and changes forever his belief and outlook to life.

Having finished the story, I am really glad to have put aside this book for my reading pleasure during this festive season. The Gift is not solely a story about healing, it is also a poignant reminder of the passing of time. It evokes in me a keen sense of sadness and regret amidst the gift of healing. To heal or to ignore? What if the act of healing others draws life out of the one who heals? It makes me weep as a grieving mum does over the fate of her child and things which are way beyond her control. Yet as sad and touching a story as it is, the author pens it with faith and hope in the powers there be. It makes me feel that not all is lost.

Last but not least, I have a confession to make. For years on end, I have always believed or choose to believe that the coordinated repetitive patterns of facial movements performed in the same order by my own brother is an extremely bad habit of his own choosing. He has a mininum of five different manifestations - eye blinking, nose twitching, facial grimacing, head jerking and head twisting - at least those that I can visibly see.

I used to question why mum fails to stop my younger brother from making a disgrace of himself with all his awful facial movements. It gets especially worse when he is nervous or excited. And I feel so embarrass just to be seen with my own sibling in the public. Once, my brother even tells me that he needs to complete his facial movements in a certain way and a certain number of times in order to relieve some kind of urge or sensation which he is unable to explain. I find it absolutely absurd and hard to believe.

That was then, the ignorant me. Now I finally understand. My younger brother is actually a victim of complex motor tics. By my reading of The Gift, I am granted a gift, the precious gift of understanding.

In a bid to better understand Tourette's syndrome since reading the Author’s Note in The Gift, I spend some time googling and reading up on this neurological disorder. Among the articles that I come across, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) provides the most comprehensive information on Tourette's syndrome.

Below is a condensed version of my understanding. For more information on this neurological disorder, you can refer to the link listed below.

What is Tourette's syndrome?

Tourette's syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by the presence of both motor tics and vocal tics.

These short-lasting sudden movements (motor tics) or uttered sounds (vocal tics) occur suddenly during what is otherwise normal behavior.

TS occurs in people from all ethnic groups; males are affected about three to four times more often than females.

What are the symptoms?

Tics are classified as either simple or complex.

Simple motor tics are sudden, brief, repetitive movements that involve a limited number of muscle groups, such as eye blinking, nose twitching, facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, and head or shoulder jerking.

Complex motor tics are distinct, coordinated patterns of movements performed in the same order that involve several muscle groups, such as facial grimacing combined with a head twist and a shoulder shrug. Some other complex motor tics may actually appear purposeful, such as sniffing or touching objects, hopping, jumping, bending or twisting.

Simple vocal tics may include repetitive throat-clearing, sniffing/snorting, grunting, or barking.

Complex vocal tics include words or phrases; some may involve uttering socially inappropriate words such as swearing or repeating the words or phrases of others.

Some tics are preceded by an urge or sensation in the affected muscle group, commonly called a premonitory urge. Some with TS will describe a need to complete a tic in a certain way or a certain number of times in order to relieve the urge or decrease the sensation.

Tics are often worse with excitement or anxiety and better during calm, focused activities.

Tics do not go away during sleep but are often significantly diminished.

(Source: Tourette Syndrome Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke  Last modified on 16 April 2014)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 9 Oct 2007

*** Favourite quote 1 ***

The most important story we will ever write in life is our own - not with ink, but with our daily choices.

*** Favourite quote 2 ***

Sunsets, like childhood, are viewed with wonder not just because they are beautiful but because they are fleeting.

*** Favourite quote 3 ***

Our thoughts are not arrows haphazardly shot out into the cosmos. They are boomerangs.

~ The Gift
Richard Paul Evans


There is no hurt
so great that love
cannot heal it

Nathan Hurst hated Christmas. For the rest of the world it was a day of joy and celebration; for Nathan it was simply a reminder of the event that destroyed his childhood until a snowstorm, a cancelled flight, and an unexpected meeting with a young mother and her very special son would show him that Christmas is indeed the season of miracles.

*Blurb from FantasticFiction*

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review: Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy #1) by Ilona Andrews

5 stars for Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy book 1) by Ilona Andrews.

It has never been easy to be patient, especially when it comes down to procrastinating reading – urban fantasy – book series written by my favourite authors. Erm-hem… Actually, I thought I am doing pretty well, considering that I have managed to delay reading book 1 Burn for Me in this brand new series, Hidden Legacy, for over a year such that it is essentially considered a new series no longer.

You see, happiness for me is (1) finding the first good book in a series and knowing there are more to follow. I am already familiar with author Ilona Andrews’s writings, so no issue there; I have full-fledged confidence in reading good stories coming from this husband and wife tag team. (2) finishing a phenomenal book and having another great one to move on to. And that is my reason for waiting book 2 out. Every so often, I will convince myself to postpone my reading until the complete series or at least two of the books are released. This way, I can minimise the hangover and helpless feeling of not being able to proceed with the next book in-line when I know what I have finished with is only one out of many to come in the series.

Much as I will have liked to wait until the digital and/or dead tree version of book 2 is available before I commence on this series, I ask myself “what the heck” when I realise that the book release date has been pushed back to May 2017 which is like another one and a half years’ time from now. So, I decide that the waiting is done. Yea, I like that.

Because I have access to only this book 1, I want to slowly savour the story while it last, to prolong my enjoyment factor of impersonating – no matter how short-lived – the first person narrator, a 25-year old Nevada Baylor, in this magically created world of fantasy; so much so that I find myself reading and re-reading the same sentence a couple of times and flipping the pages back and forth. Suffice to say, I manage to outlast my stay in Burn for You and hopefully can keep my passion aflame White Hot for the next instalment.

In this newly created world of Hidden Legacy, the author presents various schools of magic users. Just to name a few, we have pyrokinetics who manipulate fire; aquakinetics who manipulate water; enerkinetics who manipulate raw magical energy; aerokinetics who manipulate wind; telekinetics who manipulate and move things.

Taking a step further, these magic users are grouped into five ranks: minor, average, notable, significant and prime. Though one palm a many categories, the real ones to watch out for are the Primes; top-notch magic users with godlike powers who inherit magic talents from their parents and in all likelihood will pass it on to their children. Depending on their specialties, these Primes, especially heir Primes, are expected to attend the right schools, land the right jobs, marry the right persons and produce preferably the right number of gifted offspring. In other words, these Primes live not for themselves but for their families’ needs.

In a world where lineage is everything and magic dictates everything, the protagonist, Nevada Baylor, is practically nobody. With no wealth, no power, no genetic pedigree to flaunt, Nevada quietly runs Baylor Investigative Agency, a small, family-owned business that has been sold to House Montgomery with a 30-year repayment mortgage term.

Then one day, as a subsidiary of Montgomery International Investigation owned by House Montgomery, Nevada is charged with a deadly assignment, one which she cannot reject, but to accept is to seek an early death. And that is when things start to get really interesting and exciting for Nevada is actually gifted with a rare and valuable magical talent. Using this third rarest magic talent, one which is highly sought after by many, Nevada proceeds to complete her lethal mission while at the same time does her utmost to stay alive. In the midst of it all, Nevada crosses path with Connor, a Prime who in all earnestness, has earned the nickname of “Mad” Rogan. Yes, expect lots of sparks and stars.

One can tell from the writing the sheer amount of effort the author has put in to produce an impressively well thought-out plot, one that is built on the grounds of magic and magic users and covers almost every loophole possible. Well, a good plot alone is never enough. Obviously, the author knows this and circumvents it by topping the storyline with exceptionally well crafted characters detailed with good historical background and in-depth personalities to match. The end result? A totally absorbing urban fantasy world packed with fast-paced actions and sprinkled with just the right dose of sizzling romance.

Publisher: Avon; Reissue edition
Publication date: 28 Oct 2014

*** Favourite quote ***

The heavens opened, and the realization fell out and hit me on the head.

~ Burn for Me
Ilona Andrews


Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile situation. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run and wanting to surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.
Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

5 stars for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a novel where the author ingeniously brings readers on a ride to see the world through the eyes of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year old Mathematical genius who knows all the countries in the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057.

As is my preferred practice of knowing zilch about the story I am about to indulge myself in, I purposefully avoid reading the book blurb or anything related and plunge headlong into this book with no inkling of what the story is about. At first, I thought this is a straightforward story about an event concerning a dog on a particular night, one that involves the protagonist playing detective and doing some detective work on his own to find the dog's killer. But as I read on, I realise I cannot be more wrong.

This is no simple mystery solving novel; it is much more. So much more. More absence than presence. More questions than answers. More sadness than happiness. And above all, more heartache than anything. I feel as if my heart is being squeezed tight as I ache for the leading character. Then as I move deeper into the story, I realise the author is a pro in manipulating the emotions of readers because not only does my heart feel squashed, I feel it being ripped asunder as I switch camp and sympathise first with the boy, then the dad, then the mum, then the dad, then.. You get my drift?

It all starts with a dog; a poodle called Wellington that belongs to Mrs Shears. It is found lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of the aforementioned owner's house. As Christopher goes about solving the mystery death of this canine, we gets glimpses into the workings of his carefully worked-out mind and insights to how and why he behaves the way he does.

Who tops the Expert Version of Minesweeper at 99 seconds? Who plays Scrabble and beats the opponent 247 points to 134? Christopher Boone! He is very good at chess, maths and logic and his observant eyes take in every single detail. Sadly, Christopher Boone is a teenage boy who lives mostly in his own world; he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. And because Asperger's syndrome is mostly a 'hidden disability' where people cannot tell from Christopher’s outward appearance that he has this condition - difficulties in social communication, interaction and imagination - he is often misunderstood by others.

This book which has won - no surprises there - seventeen literary prizes, including the Whitbread Award for Best Novel 2003, is a story so intricately heartbreaking and thought-provoking that many a time I find myself pausing to think things through and blinking my eyes in a feeble attempt to stop tears from rolling down my cheeks before I continue with more. Then, there is this shocking revelation of the truth where the crux of the story lies. It comes when I least expect it. Oh my!

Upon finishing the novel, I surprise myself by heading out to the nearest bookstore and grabbing this paperback off the shelf. Yea, I enjoy and appreciate the story so completely that I want to be the owner of not only the digital version but the dead tree version as well.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is one of 15 titles voted for by reading groups in UK as being books that will still be read in 100 years’ time. I am now one happy owner of said book; the limited edition Vintage Future Classics published to celebrate Vintage’s 15th birthday.

Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition
Publication date: 18 May 2004


'The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog.'

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's, a form of autism. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour's dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.

Christopher is a brilliant creation, and Mark Haddon's depiction of his world is deeply moving, very funny and utterly convincing. The novel is being published simultaneously for adults by Jonathan Cape and for children by David Fickling, publisher of Philip Pullman. We are convinced that both audiences will recognise it as one of those very rare books that change the way you see everything.

*Blurb from FantasticFiction*

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