[775]: Inside Out by Demi Moore

Demi Moore didn’t pull any punches in her memoir. When she decided to excise her demons, there wasn’t enough holy water left in the world to douse all the bad jujus she unleashed. The book in itself is not a big volume by any standards. At less than 300 pages, she was able to convey a highly emotional, painfully honest confession about her life, loves, failures, addictions, and perseverance.

She was a teen from New Mexico, constantly embroiled in her parents’ dysfunctional relationship. Abusive at times, toxic even. It was painfully clear that she would either follow in her parents’ drugs and alcohol addled footsteps, or she could choose a different path. And while those demons won out for a time, she somehow always found a way out. She was determined to be better. Determined to not make the same mistakes. But fame, money, and freedom always comes at a cost.

Her romantic relationships always start off ideal in their own ways. But what was common was there was always an age gap. Her first real relationship was with a man 12 years her senior (he was 28, she — 16). Her mother sold her for $500 to a man old enough to be her father. But before that, she had her first sexual intercourse with a neighbor with whom she thought was her friend. He was 23, she was 15.

And for a time it may seem like she’s always chasing safety and security that her parents never afforded her. Then she met Bruce Willis with whom she would have 3 daughters. Though it was at the period of her life when she found success in her career, juggling marriage, motherhood, and having a career would prove to be difficult. It was also during those times when she would put more pressure on herself to look a certain way. Punishing her body to levels of exhaustion and hunger. But still she wasn’t satisfied. Even if she was one of the most beautiful people in the world — and still.

She was branded by the media as a diva, one who wanted to get paid more. In the meantime, she was only doing her part to bridge the gap of income inequality in Hollywood. Slowly, she became one of the highest paid actress of her time. But things at home was slowly unravelling. Her’s and Bruce’s split coincided with her mother passing — her mother, with whom she hasn’t spoken to in years. Ironically enough, she’s long decided she will never depend on a man for her happiness due in part because she’d seen what it did to her mother. Unfortunately, her determination to be independent from Bruce lent to their break up.

Then she met Ashton Kutcher — a young actor 15 years her junior. The attraction was instantaneous. He was sweet, loving, kind and very supportive of her career and her family. Subconsciously, she knew she would do anything for him. Until they crossed a line they couldn’t go back from. She tried to learn from her mistake during her marriage with Bruce but it was a one-way codependency that she didn’t know until it was too late.

The only way out is in.

Andy Warhol

The title of Demi’s memoir was taken from painting that Andy Warhol gave Demi personally. And I couldn’t agree more. I think we all need to confront our painful pasts before we could heal and love wholeheartedly. It’s too bad that for most of us, it sometimes takes a lifetime for that realization to come. But for Demi, I think confronting her past was her attempt to eradicate the stigma that has long followed her all her life; and that is that she doesn’t belong, and she doesn’t deserve her successes and her place as one of the most revered actresses in Hollywood, if not the world.

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[773]: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Half the population of America has been silenced. Women has been relegated to speak at a maximum of 100 words per day. Their rights to read, write, sign; to educate themselves, to work, has all but been eradicated. They are home makers, existing to serve the men in their lives, the government and the church.

For Dr. Jean McClellan, who was a neurolinguist by profession before this nightmare happened, the stakes were higher. After all, she saw it coming and did nothing. Now, as her six-year-old daughter continues to digress into muteness, she was angry with herself, her husband, Patrick who has direct access to the current president, and the sitting administration influenced by the extreme religious right. She holds the key, because before she was forced out of her job as a neurolinguist, she has discovered something. If she could only find a way back into her lab and stop the nightmare, she’d be able to give her daughter and the rest of the girls in America back their voices. But she knows very little about the scope and magnitude of the government’s plans.

Hailed as a The Handmaid’s Tale copycat, Vox did its best to re-imagine an America changed; one that is loosely based on Atwood’s nightmarish dystopian world. Where women were virtually powerless and voiceless. According to Google, women on average speak at least 16,000 words per day. But this world only allows women to speak 100. Imagine being restricted to 100 words a day. The silence that would drive anyone insane; the helplessness you feel as you try and fail to teach your child — a girl child to speak and knowing that you have very little words allowed to say. This is that stark, quiet world.

And while I enjoyed this novel, I felt there were a few aspects that were glossed over. I felt like there were too many questions unanswered about the genesis of this world. Like the American people didn’t fight too hard for the women and considering 50.8% of the population comprises of women, I don’t think it was feasible that they just let the government take away the rights of many. Yet at the same time, they’ve been down this road before. They’ve taken away rights of people for the sake of other people’s religious rights. And they are slowly chiselling away at the Roe v. Wade rule to protect women’s rights to their body. Laws are developed and enhanced over time, and perhaps that’s where my incredulity comes from. That this law was severe, cruel, and permanent.

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[772]: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Tiffy Moore has had some recent upheavals in her life. Her boyfriend just broke up with her, she needs to move out of his flat, and what’s worse, she finds out later that he’s engaged. In desperate need of a place, and soon, she answered an ad for a flat share — a time share of sorts, in which she would have a roommate but they’ll never see each other. He works at night, she works days. And in the weekends, she has free rein of the place. They sleep in the same bed, but not together. It’s quite ingenious, actually. And one that could be financially beneficial for them both.

Through missives left on post it notes, Leo and Tiff develop a friendship. One that will be cultivated as they get to know each other very well. On paper, they have nothing in common. But as the days go by, and through their interactions, they realize that their connection is more than they’d ever experienced in any other partners they’d each had in the past — which complicate things as Leo is with someone and Tiff is trying to get on with her life.

This was a wonderful contemporary romance that had more heart and seriousness that what was let on. I enjoyed it very much as I’m a fan of romances with a little more depth. I just don’t want a meet-cute, then an adorable story about two people and their relationship. I mean, don’t get me wrong, The Flatshare is THAT but it also gave me more. I especially looked forward to them actually meeting face to face for the first time. The excitement it brought was more pronounced somehow just because their relationship was already developing into something more even before meeting in person.

The Flatshare also contained heft in plot by way of a few story lines: i.e. Tiff’s obsessive ex, Leo’s search for a veteran whose friend had very little time to live; and Leo’s incarcerated brother who was wrongfully convicted. I felt like Ms. O’Leary made sure that there were complexities in the plot that would not at all feel contrived.

Over all, Ms. O’Leary’s debut novel hit all the right spots for romance and contemporary fiction for me. I enjoyed the humour, the innate chemistry between Leo and Tiff, and the subtle emotions the novel made me feel. It’s quirky and just an all-around feel good story about two people connecting in the most unusual of ways.

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[766]: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren

THE UNHONEYMOONERS

Book Review

The writing duo of Christina Lauren hardly disappoints. Apart from Dating You/Dating Me, that is, which I had a tough time getting into because of the characters. Also, Autoboyography which was so good up until that one moment when the broken hearted boy did something so stupid that I can’t even. Sigh. Anyway, they continue to write entertaining romance novels that are funny and sexy. They are also so proficient in witty banters between characters. I guess that’s one of the advantages of being a duo.

In The Unhoneymooners, we meet Olive. A self-proclaimed unlucky soul who can’t catch a break. Unlike her sister who manages to win every single contests she enters. As luck would have it, she wins her entire wedding – including the honeymoon. But throughout her unlucky streak, Olive never once did she feel envious of her twin sister’s lucky draw in life. Their relationship is a loving, supportive one. They have each other’s backs no matter what and will do just about anything for each other.

It is unfortunate that she can’t warm up to her sister’s fiancé and especially to his brother, Ethan. Things has always been contentious since almost to the day they met. For some inexplicable reason, they just grate on each other’s nerves. So when the entire wedding party and guests came down with the worst case of food poisoning, Olive’s luck either turned for the better or worse – depending on who you asked.

Ethan and Olive spends the next week in beautiful, balmy Maui trying not to kill each other and staying out of each other’s way. Unfortunately, fate has another plan. Day by day, their relationship grows from cantankerous to something else entirely. And with every change in the dynamics of their relationship, comes the revelations of the real reason why they can’t stand each other.

I really enjoyed this one. Christina Lauren are authors whose works I repeatedly go back to when I’m in need of an escape. I’ll never tire of them, I don’t think. The Unhoneymooners became just one of their works that I’ll read and reread.

There are a lot to love about Ethan and Olive. The banters, the antics they pull on each other, the way they love each other’s siblings to a fault; and the way they sometimes forget that they hate each other. Olive, despite being plagued with unholy luck, was one of those people who accepts things for what and how they are. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t take steps to somehow change the status quo. In fact, she’ll do just about anything to finally gain employment even as far as to coerce Ethan into faking a marriage. Ethan, on the other hand, also has something to gain by agreeing: to prove to his ex-girlfriend that he’s moved on. (Sidenote: having a free holiday in Maui only to have it spoilt it by seeing your ex with their current flame staying is not my idea of a good time.) Long story short, mishaps ensue. But amongst the comedy of errors was a realization that they were actually good together. And theirs could work if they could only get past all the hang-ups of their past encounters.

The one thing they have in common was how much they love their siblings and to what end they’ll do to protect them. But it’s that instinct that might be detrimental to their pursuing a relationship.

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[765]: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

B O O K R E V I E W

La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

4 out of 5 Stars

Philip Pullman is a celebrated author whose work I’ve yet to experience. Therefore, I was not ready for the wildly imaginative world he created here. However, and based on some reviews I read on Goodreads, this does not quite compare to his previous work. But if you’re like me who bore no certain familiarity to his older novels, I think you’ll be just fine – awed, even.

The first book to this series introduces as to an alternate universe. This is a prequel to His Dark Materials series – which, I’ve not read. So you might get lost with some of the aspects of the book. For example, I have no idea what alethiometers are, their functions and why they are held with great importance. In this world, everyone carries their daemons on their person. And the daemons are characterized by animals. They’re not inherently evil, in fact, they’re more like your guardian angels.

Malcolm, our boy of the hour is one of those very astute, loyal and brave characters. From the first moment he laid eyes on baby Lyra, he knew he would do anything to protect her. Soon, the identity and protection of this baby becomes his primary goal in life. Even putting his own life in danger. There are a lot of mysteries yet to be uncovered about Lyra’s identity. I don’t know why everyone is clamoring to find her and possess her. But my guess is she’s important in His Dark Materials series? *shrugs*

As if things can’t be more perilous for our Malcolm and his quest to protect baby Lyra, a flood pretty much washed away everything and everyone that he could rely on. So for the entirety of the novel, he was afloat on a boat with Lyra and Alice, with whom he’s had a contemptuous relationship to begin with. Things were terse, dangerous what with a lunatic on their tail determined to take Lyra away.

One thing’s for sure, I’m excited that I’ve finally get to have the Phillip Pullman experience. If only for the introduction to his work. And who knows? Maybe I’ll decide to read his other books as well down the road. This was dark for a novel geared towards younger audience but over all, I’m sold.

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[764]: Raze by Roan Parrish

I can always count on Roan Parrish to deliver stories with a lot of heat and plenty of heart. Raze, the third installment to her Riven series, is yet another testament to this fact.

Here, we get the story of Huey, the AA sponsor extraordinaire who owns and runs a bar of all places. Not only is he a former addict himself, but he managed to become an anchor for a few who continues to fight their demons day in and day out. Though at some days, he too, has his demons to fight. But through a rigorous routine and living a life free from emotional entanglements, Huey has managed the life of sobriety for the last ten years. Albeit, a lonely one at that.

Along come Felix; a guy who is about to shatter Huey’s carefully created world. Huey was not ready for Felix’ sunny disposition, but he couldn’t help but be drawn in regardless. These two souls didn’t know it at first, but they — in their own ways, needed each other’s help to break free from the doldrums of their existence.

I love how different they are. Huey’s quiet but imposing personality matches well with Felix’ happy-go-lucky friendliness. However, they have being nurturers in common. Felix has been the caretaker of his family – his mom and his sister. While Huey has taken care of anyone who needed the support during their weakest moments. Unfortunately, the years of being everyone’s pillar and support, and his predisposition to help others becomes yet another weakness he had to overcome.

Felix had so much insecurities that held him back. He just didn’t think he has a lot to offer to anyone. Once he was freed from his family responsibilities he was able to step back and reassess what he wants to do with his life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy. The usual insecurities plagued him.

I’ve been enjoying this series a whole lot. I’m not always aware when they come out, but when I see it, it’s an instant download. I guess you can say that Roan Parrish is my go-to author for M/M romance.

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[755]: Darius the Great is not Okay by Adib Khorram

First time author, Adib Khorram takes his readers to the sights, sounds, and people of Iran. A country, in my own opinion that has had a reputation as a dangerous territory. 

After reading this book however, I was left awestruck by its wild beauty, rich culture, historic and picturesque architecture. 

In this book, we meet Darius, a product of a mixed-race marriage who can’t seem to find his purchase in the world in which he grew up. His dad might be as White as they come, but his features are pure Persian. He’s an awkward, quiet teenager who finds himself a target among his peers. So when his parents announced that his family was headed to Iran for three weeks, he welcomed the opportunity to find refuge from his life in America. 

In Iran, he’d hoped to garner some closeness to his grandparents, especially his grandfather whose illness had taken for the worse. He also wanted to learn about his mom’s Motherland, her people, their relatives, and soak up traditions and culture. In the hopes that he’d learn to understand why he’s never felt comfortable in his own person and why he’ll always feel like the outsider no matter where he is. 

He finds more than he bargained for in Iran. He, too, was taken in by the beauty of the country; the warmth and acceptance of his people, and most of all, a step towards understanding the only thing he seemed to have in common with his father: depression. Both take medications in precise synchronicity. Darius, for the most part, gets along with his dad. They have the same affinity for Star Trek. And yet, they seemed miles apart when it matters. 

Darius has never been able to get along with his peers. So finding friendship in the least likely places confounded him the most. 

The thing is, I never had a friend like Sohrab before. One who understood me without even trying. Who knew what it was like to be stuck on the outside because of one little thing that set you apart.


This book is about belonging. It’s about finding your place in the world no matter where you are. It’s being comfortable in your true self, and understanding that you’ll only be happy once you accept that you can never be what people tell you who you should be. 

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[3] Romance Reads Round Up: The VIP Series by Kristen Callihan

 


Idol
by Kristen Callihan
Published: June 7th, 2016
Rating 4 out of 5 Stars

Kristen Callihan’s VIP series is about the Kill John band. Rockstars and sex gods, who has recently suffered the heartbreak of a failed suicide by one of its members.

Second only to the the suicidal member, Killian James is probably more affected by this setback. After all, Jax Blackwood is the other half of what makes Kill John the band. As well, he considers him as his brother. So when he didn’t see the abyss that Jax was slowly falling into, he blames himself. Guilt-ridden and uninspired to face the world, he plunged into a pool of alcoholism and found himself in a wreck on Liberty Bell’s front yard.

Although their meeting got off to a rocky start, Libby and Killian found a kindred spirit in each other. Libby was also on the run from the world having just lost her parents. She hasn’t spoken to anyone in months prior to Killian crashing into her isolation. In the end, they’d both realize that they are exactly with whom they needed. Libby, to inspire the music back into Killian’s life, and Killian to bring Libby back into the world of the living.


Managed
by Kristen Callihan
Published: November 14th, 2016
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Gabriel Scott is perhaps my favourite character in this series. As the title insinuates, he is the manager for the band.

His friendship/brotherhood with Kill John started out when they were kids at a boarding school in England. They took him under their wings and as years go by, their friendship only strenghtened to a brotherhood. He, too was especially affected by Jax’s failed suicide. It was an eye-opener to the fast life that being around Kill John slowly devolved into. Since then, he’s become even more staid, stuffy, and short of being a hermit.

The romance between Gabriel and Sophie is also my favourite so far. I don’t know how many more books are coming but it’s safe to say these two win my vote. Bonus: Sophie’s mom is half Filipino so a girl after my own heart. Anyway, Gabriel is a very regimented, disciplined, and serious man. So meeting a whirlwind like Sophie Darling threw him for a loop. I love the way Sophie took him out of his comfort zone at all times. They were a mixture of mercurial and coquettish fun that really worked as far as character chemistry goes.

Sophie has a dark history relating to the band, however. So working for them might just be a bit more complicated that she anticipated.


Fall
by Kristen Callihan
Published: October 23rd, 2018
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


Ahhh, Jax Blackwood. Laid-back on the outside, a mess of angst on the inside. Is it weird to associate him with Jasper Cullen? I don’t know, but that’s who I saw in my head as I was reading his story.

Anyway, our Jax Blackwood is still recovering from his failed suicide. And while his facade screams “well-adjusted rockstar”, he has scars from his inability to cope with living the celebrity life. In fact, he’s still vulnerable that even Killian James and the rest of the band walk on eggshells around him.

But then he meets Stella. A sunshine in his otherwise gloomy existence. Everybody loves her, everyone’s drawn to her goodness and light. But Stella is hiding a vulnerability that she rarely shows the world. If he’s lucky, he might get a glimpse. Or he might even help her. But darkness has a way of dimming whatever sliver of light the weak have found. Unfortunately, Jax and Stella are not exempt from the shadows that lurk in their own psyches.

I love these two as well. Heck, I love all the couples so far from this series. It just so happens that I love Scottie and Sophie more. Kristen Callihan knows how to pair them well, with stories that will leave you sighing from beginning to the end. I can’t wait to read more about the rest of the crew, and that includes finally seeing Brenna and Rye in the bedroom so they can take their aggression out on each other. If you know what I mean. *wink, wink*

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[754]: Dirty Exes by Rachel Van Dyken

Dirty Exes, Liars Inc. Book 1
by Rachel Van Dyken


The first book to Ms. Van Dyken’s new series features the story of revenge and finding love when you least expect it. This is about Blaire, a woman spurned by love one too many times. Her first love was Jesse, a man who, at the time, was on the verge of greatness in professional football.  He made the choice to walk away from Blaire all those years ago. It took her a while, but she got over the hurt. Though, seeing him again brought the sting of her first love heartbreak.

Her second stint at love hurt her pride more than anything when she found her ex-husband in flagrante delicto with her best friend, no less. And on that same fateful night, she met her now business partner. Isla knows all too well about getting spurned. After all, she found out that her boyfriend was sleeping with her sister on the same day.  The kinship instantly turned to a partnership otherwise known as Liars, Inc.

The job is hardly glamorous by any stretch of imagination. Setting traps for lying, cheating boyfriends and husbands is not a walk in the park. They do whatever they can to help the female population rid themselves of men with wandering eyes and sleazy hands. Including, but not limited to, putting up with demanding clients with spouses who may or may not be dirt bags after all.

Such is the case for Blaire’s former love, Jesse.

Hired by his soon-to-be ex-wife, Blaire has the unfortunate task of trying to find evidence of his alleged cheating. But she didn’t account for meeting Jesse’s best friend, player extraordinaire, Colin. He offers more than help in finding all the dirty deets in Jesse’s life. He’s a complication she didn’t account for. He’s good looking, cunning, as he is playful in life and in business. Basically, trouble with a capital T. More than anything, Blaire hopes to deal with her feelings with Jesse once and for all.  But she gets more than what she bargains for. Now, she’s caught between two men demanding more than she’s willing to give.

A love triangle that didn’t drive me crazy: this is how it’s done, y’all. You’ll never read about Blaire waffling back and forth between two men. Ms. Van Dyken let the story play out, without annoying us with Blaire’s incessant listing of the pros and cons with being either man. The effect is an enjoyable, romantic story that had me grinning and not at all thinking about whose bed should Blaire end up.

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[753]: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

Only Human
by Sylvain Neuvel


The third and final installment in The Themis Files didn’t lack for suspense. The world has changed since Vincent, Rose, and Eva ended up on another planet at the end of the second book. Left with no choice but to hijack an Esat Ekt ship and keeping one of them hostage, Vincent found himself on the end his daughter, Eva’s ire. Because not only did she not want to leave the planet she grew to love, he also caused the death of one her friends during their captivity.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, things have drastically changed since they inhabited it last. The world is now divided into two factions ruled by two superpowers: the US and Russia. While the US was already was in possession of the giant robot that Rose & Vincent helped assemble before they left Earth, Russia was delighted to have Themis landed in their territory.  Humankind is ruled by fear and hate. Racism persists, escalating in separation of those who are different. Most are killed or forced into labor, while a war of armageddon proportion looms on the horizon.

Russian agent Katherine Lebedev will use whatever means of coercion to have Vincent and Rose pilot Themis, including, but not limited to mental blackmail and torture.  The US and Russia are on the brink of war and it’s up to Rose and Vincent to end it before it even starts.

The torturous wait for this book is finally over. Considering how the second book ended, I was relieved and satisfied by its grand exit.  We learned so much about the way the inhabitants of Esat Ekt lived and how they treated Rose, Vincent and Eva while they lived in their planet.  They’ve managed to undertake a semblance of life and have established connections with the humanoids of Esat Ekt.  Here, we find some sort of complacency that enables them to live in a peaceful, yet fearful utopian environment. Not everything is what it seems. There’s a conflict that’s bubbling on the surface and the Earthlings found themselves smack dab in the thick of things. Hence, the hasty getaway back to Earth.

As per its two predecessors, Only Human was told in interviews, diary entries and mission logs. The effect is a fragmented, but oddly seamless method of story telling. It is action-packed, suspenseful with burst of humor to cut through some of the tension.  This is a fitting finale to Sci-Fi readers and non-readers alike that makes me hopeful that Sci-Fi doesn’t always necessarily mean technical jargons, clinical environment, and androidic characters.

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