Monday, December 30, 2013

Just for laffs












Cos it's Monday.

Cut it out!

TL;DR.

(accidentally deleted post cos I can be lame that way) *head desk*

My dearest friends are well aware of my radical liberalism tendencies when it comes to matters of faith and religion. If you are not in the know, you can read it here.

Oh, and plus a tiny edit.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sweetness need not be cloying

The Arrangement (The Survivors' Club #2)The Arrangement by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ms Balogh has a knack for writing characters that has a realism that is really appealing. This is the second book of the Survivor's Club series, this time chronicling the love story of Vincent Hunt, Lord Darleigh, who escaped the Napoleonic Wars with permanent loss of his sight.

The development of his tendre for Miss Sophia Fry is sweet though flavoured with hard practicality. It is delightful to see how a penniless orphan manages to liberate the proud aristocrat of the boundaries of his disabilities; escaping from the usual rescue trope. In this case, they rescued each other, making for a more satisfying story telling.

Lovely stuff. Go read.


Favourite quote:

"If people cannot beg pardon on one another," she said, "then nothing can be forgiven and wounds fester."

Male protagonist: 4/5 stars
Female protagonist: 4/5 stars
Storyline: 4/5 stars
Pacing: 4/5 stars
Fun Factor: 4/5 stars
Repeat Reading Factor: 4/5 stars

View all my reviews

Couples that kill together, stay together.

Broken (Women of the Otherworld, # 6)Broken by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ms Armstrong writes cool, unsentimental werewolves. None of the barf-inducing romantification of a potential spree killer who look at humans as meat.

Broken is the third book in the Elena Michaels and Clay Danvers series. I like they way they have grown as characters, the flow and ebb of the relationship, how it all ain't sugar and roses.

This time round, the adventure includes a pair of zombies.

Werewolves and zombies, fun and games all around. Go read.


Favourite quote:

"That's all I get after three years? We spent a harrowing week together, locked in an underground prison, fighting for survival --"

"I was fighting for survival. You were drawing a paycheck."

"Hey now, in my own way, I was just as much of a prisoner as you."

I snorted. "A prisoner of your greed."

"Trapped by my shortcomings. It's tragic really."


Male protagonist: 4/5 stars
Female protagonist: 4/5 stars
Storyline: 4/5 stars
Pacing: 3/5 stars
Fun Factor: 4/5 stars
Repeat Reading Factor: 3/5 stars

View all my reviews

Nothing says love like running away together from a maniac

Deception Cove (Rainshadow, #2; Harmony, #10)Deception Cove by Jayne Castle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is the latest installment of Jayne Castle's Harmony series. Adventure? Check. Steamy romance? Check. Demented villain who would have been a Mary Sue if not for psychopathy? Check.

The book hit all the right notes, but nothing particularly spectacular.

If you're a fan of paranormal romance flavoured with a little sci fi, go for it.


Favourite quote: He gave that some thought. "Not that I'm against sex in a garage or anywhere else, for that matter."


Male protagonist: 3/5 stars
Female protagonist: 3/5 stars
Storyline: 3/5 stars
Pacing: 3/5 stars
Fun Factor: 3/5 stars
Repeat Reading Factor: 3/5 stars

View all my reviews

Monday, December 2, 2013

I missed Movember!

Gosh!

I completely missed November! Not a single post. *hangs head in shame*

And I really don't even have an excuse for it. Not even NaNoWriMo (which I tried for the first time and failed utterly) could be put forth as a reasonable lieu. I moved about in my daily life, taking note of stuff that may be of interest to blog, filed away a few in my head, and promptly forgot about them. *face palm*

And it's all because of this man. OMG, I don't even ...

*sigh*

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Vroom! Vroom!

What the interior of my baby looks like on a rainy night.

Like many suburban teenagers, I took the driving test after completing my SPM (high school exam). I remember being terrorised by a driving instructor who didn't understand that I had no clue that there are other gears apart from 1st and reverse. Hey, my first three lessons were nothing except the bit about parallel and and L-parking, okay?

After getting my license, I harassed my Dad to let me drive. I may have gotten JPJ's (Department of Motor Vehicle) permission to drive on the road, but getting past Daddy!JPJ was much harder. It took a while, but I finally got permission to get myself around in Mum's car, even to uni. Lucky for me, there weren't many students driving in those days, so parking wasn't as hellish an issue as it is now in my alma mater.

A lot of drivers, myself included, take driving for granted. We got wheels and can go places, whether because of work (all those hours behind the wheel cursing other salarypeople like myself who are also on the road) or even out of duty or pleasure. Of course we curse the Government with every fuel hike, conveniently forgetting that we pay the least for fuel in this region, but nonetheless, we could continue to choke the highways and widen that hole in the ozone layer over the McMurdo Base in Antarctica.

Ladies in Saudi Arabia do not have this luxury. Bad enough they are treated worse than toddlers (cannot go anywhere without a male family member or written permission), they don't even have the luxury of self transportation. I don't know if there are any public transport system in Saudi (I doubt it), but with the kind of social restraints put on these women, they can't even board a bus without a pass from their husband/father/brother/son/whoever with a Y chromosome in their household. If their child had an accident in the house and needed to be taken to the hospital pronto, she will have to wait for a male member of her household to come home, pick them up and go.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the whole world that forbids women from driving. The authorities in Saudi Arabia claimed that allowing women to drive would be detrimental to society. Some cleric even said that driving would damage women's ovaries or something equally demented. I am not surprised. It was in Saudi Arabia that I saw signage in shops that says "Women are not allowed!". Like we are dogs. Which is also lousy for business because, hello? Shoppers bring revenue, remember? Who cares what sex chromosomes they carry?


Last Saturday a group of women in Saudi got together and pushed for a campaign to allow them to drive in the streets of Saudi. The website of the campaign was hacked in order to discourage them but at least sixty women donned their hijab and braved the disapproval and got behind the wheel and got to places. It's a start, but hey, even suffragettes didn't get the vote until decades of blood, sweat and tears, hey?

Anyhoo, this guy made this cool video poking fun at the Saudi authority's stand on women driving. Check it out.



Solidarity for our sisters in Saudi!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Losing My Religion - And Finding My Faith

Based on the writing prompt: What I Learned from Someone*


Sparked by ear candy
The year was 1991. The American rock band REM released a single that shot them to superstardom, Michael Stipe’s crooning of being left in the spotlight andlosing his religion has emphatically propelled the band out of obscurity. Personally, I preferred the Nina Persson’s version; her sweet, slightly raspy voice lent a different piquancy to the lyrics and melody. Tori Amos, mad musical genius that she is, deconstructed the song and reinterpreted it into something very different.

(more after the break)

Friday, September 27, 2013

White boy got soul

An FB friend introduced me to John Newman. It's been ages since I  hear a white boy got soul (Justin Timberlake don't count). John's raspy baritone brings to mind stuff like Living in a Box's Room in Your Heart, definitely a lovely stroll down memory lane of halcyon high school days.












Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Our customers are no good to us dead

Good marketing is not just about getting more customers, but also to maintain the existing ones.



Sometimes the universe surprises you, in a good way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Never leave home without a good knife


Sing-a-long in Javanese!



*Stolen from Facebook, hence the tiny quality.

The song is about the process of having a wedding for Javanese families. Traditionally, the family would gather for a meeting to discuss division of labour; roping in aunts, uncles, cousins, etc to help out. Either the parent(s) of the bride/groom heads the endeavour or a family elder is tasked with the coordination of the needful for the event. No need for wedding planners.

I love how well the songwriter included the various elements of the kenduri like rewang (hanging out to help cook, decorate, etc), lining the palm of the host with a money-filled envelope before taking your leave and many more. The title of the post is a reference to how many ladies like my grandmother (and yours truly included) would never depart home for a rewang without our own knife with which to work. After all, the host may run out of knives for you to use or have inferior blades of the kind of sharpness and size that you do not favour (too many people have small, blunt knives. I check out the kitchens). I remember freaking out my grandmother's neighbour as I peel onions with a six-inch (not including the handle) chef knife. But hey, my knife was beautifully sharp and of great heft that slicing and dicing was a breeze.

However, the rewang tradition is slowly being eradicated as our lifestyle change; we can no longer depend on the commitment of families and neighbours with the catering (with perhaps a souvenir from the host for their time and energy in the form of a kain batik/pelekat, etc) and prep, everyone is so busy. Unless you live in a close-knit kampung or community, you are better off engaging professional caterers to get things done. Granted, your event will look like those in the magazines (assuming you have the budget for it), but the camaraderie of showing off your skills, developing talents and just hanging out together gossiping but the uncle who was chased out by his third wife as you peel onions will no longer part of the communal memory.

Ah well. That's the price of progress, innit?

I'm a little teapot, short and stout ...

Little teapots have big ears. And eyes.



Big time.

Don't drink and drive.

Don't nap while you drive.

Don't text/WhatsApp/take Instagram pictures while you drive.

And most definitely, don't take drugs and drive.

C'mon ... do people have to tell you that?

Friday, September 13, 2013

What is truer than truth?

Title stolen from Isabel Allende in this video.

The following two videos underscore how story telling goes beyond mere entertainment. In the ancient days of my motherland, we have the penglipur lara, the storyteller, who travel from village to village, sharing stories, news and relating historical myths of the ancient kings. Their stories gave wings to the imagination of the ordinary folks and their arrival was much anticipated.

Technology and globalisation have changed the way stories are narrated. The penglipur lara may be dead for hundreds of years, but his stories continue to be told in different media. This is the power of stories: it evolves, are adapted and become incorporated into another narrative. In a way, stories are immortalised beyond the lives of the tellers.

But have we ever examined the origins of the stories we consume? Who delivered them? What was their intention? Were their sources right? What inspired them?

Herein lies the danger of the single story narrative.



I will admit to being guilty of the same thing. You tend to swallow what was told to you, especially as children. I am sure that many of us grew up with all kinds of stories about the "other" people. People who don't look like us, don't behave or pray (if they pray!) like we do, don't think like we do. Some of it is relatively harmless (or not); like mothers of the old admonishing wayward children to behave or "The benggali* will come and catch you!"

The more malevolent were like, "If you have to choose between killing a snake and a (insert ethnic/religious group of suspicion), it is better to kill the ethnic/religious person." This is about dehumanising the other person, making them alien and difficult to identify with. It would also make it easier to denigrate them, and to look down on them.

I am struck by her words about how the people in power made the definitive story and this could be used to dispossess the people, hijacking their history and culture. When a story is repeated over and over again, somehow it gained the veneer of truth and became accepted as a fact. This is some particularly profound for me, as my ethnic group is often painted as lazy, lacking initiative and always looking for a shortcut to solve problems. This perspective of our former colonial masters was countered by the eminent humanities scholar Syed Hussein Alatas in his book The Myth of the Lazy Native (which I will admit to having yet to read). But this idea of Malays being lackadaisical, etc has been so tightly woven in the nation's narrative, that it is difficult to disentangle. And like a self-fulfilling prophecy, we make it come true.

Like Ms. Adichie, the stories I write in my head (and occasionally pen down) often feature people from other countries because I have been steeped in American and Western culture, thanks to a steady diet of books, music, television and films.

*shame-faced*

While Ms. Adichie felt that Asian and African and South American and other non-white writers should be working towards developing narratives that is a contrast from the Western world view, Ms. Shafak felt that the manifestation of identity need not be utterly personal, so one could write from the viewpoint of people who is not oneself. 



To her, the most important thing is that the story need to be informative and well researched, written to evoke emotions and perhaps, create connections and empathy. One must not be limited to one's nationality, gender and sexuality. It is a very liberating thought, but I do believe that one should be free to tell the stories that speaks to one. However, it does seem that white authors get more leeway than non-white authors, who are expected to write only about their own culture and experiences.


Ninot Aziz, a celebrated Malaysian author, is reviving the hikayat, the folk tales and legends of  the Nusantara. Although the stories are sourced from Malay folk tales, she believes that the cosmopolitan nature of the stories transcends any cultural dichotomy and will speak to us regardless of our background.

Her book, Hikayat - From the Ancient Malay Kingdoms is up for the Anugerah Buku Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia - RTM. Please vote for her here. The author name is Ninot Aziz and the ISBN number of the book is 978-967-61-2540-80.

Here's to more excellent stories coming out of Malaysia!

* corruption of the word Bengali (someone from the state of Bengal in India). Usually the Sikh or other Bengal ethnic man who wore a turban and was an itinerant merchant of cloth and other household items during the pre and post Independent Malaya.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ylvis is in da house

Y'know, just like the given name of the late Mr Presley.

Get ready to tune up the volume and boogie!

Biology lesson here ...



 and wildlife musings ...



I'm sure this question kept many awake ...



... and the search for your one true love ...



I love how the songs are so reminiscent of the soaring, sweeping pop anthems of the 80's and 90's belted out by powerhouses like Whitney Houston and Peabo Bryson and Spandau Ballet. And yet ... *snerk*

Enjoy.

*Snagged all from Ilona's blog here.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Never tell a bitch to drop a size

I've never heard of the original song nor am I interested to watch the MVA controversy with Miley Cyrus twerking to Robin Thicke.

But this? Is awesome.

NSFW. You have been warned.



 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Down the rabbit hole to tripping the acid fantastic



I first came across this song on Supernatural, the television show that ate my brain (not that I could spare the little grey cells, so little do I have them) in one of the most fabulous opening scene in the history of television. I love the imagery evoked by both the melody and lyric of this song; silk-wrapped menace stalking in the shadows on midnight, propelling you towards a path less travelled, much like the seduction of a pooka taking you on a midnight ride.

For the record, I have always found Alice in Wonderland (in whatever incarnation) truly creepy. Adventures are all fine and well, but seriously, the story is like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for children. Incomprehensible, fueled by mind altering substances, tripping you into dream-like experience that is quite likely to be damaging one way or another.

But all those are the reasons that make this song the perfect anthem to many urban fantasy novels. Simon R Green is a British novelist with more than two dozen novels under his belt. Mr Green first caught me with his Nightside series, a noir horror fest of a London underground parallel universe called the Nightside where it's always three o'clock in the morning. Gods and monsters abound in the Nightside, and everything is out to get you (literally).

I love the way he fleshed out this world with the Timeslips and aliens from other dimensions marching side by side with ancient evil and primordial soup fear distilled into its purest form. The protagonist, John Taylor, is a private investigator with an unusual gift, a sly tongue and a penchant for white trench coats. He tries to do the right thing, which could go horribly wrong in the Nightside. He often ropes in friends and enemies to help solve the case of the day; colourful characters like Dead Boy, Suzie Shooter, Razor Eddie, and many more. If you are a fan of noir, do give this series a shot.

Mr Green also have another series about the Drood family, chronicling the (mis)adventures of Edwin Drood AKA Shaman Bond, the man with the golden torc. The series is a nice rollicking adventure in the psychotic vein of the James Bond series, with over the top villains and crazy magical technology to add LSD to the action sequence. The series are fun to read, but re-reading value is rather low for me.

He has several other book series, but I've only come across the first book of the Ghostfinders series. Sadly, I don't find it as fun as John Taylor's investigations so I didn't bother with the rest. However, I am intrigued by the Deathstalker series, but not piqued enough to invest money for it.

All in all, if you're into urban fantasy and are looking for a new author to try, go ahead and give Mr Green a shot.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Flogging ...

... a Dead Horse? Revisiting the Question of Intellectual Decline in Muslim Societies.

I bet some who saw the headline thought that this would be a post about some kinky activities or primitive punishment exerted on criminals in days of yore. Sorry to disappoint you but that was the title of the talk I attended today at the IAIS, given by Prof. Syed Nomanul Haq, a Senior Visiting Professor at ISTAC.

Prof. Haq was a wonderfully engaging speaker who did not perpetrate the dreaded Death by Power Point by avoiding the use of multimedia altogether.


Speaking sans PowerPoint is an idiosyncrasy common among social scientists; those of the hard sciences persuasion would be appalled at the idea of crippling their delivery with a lack of figures, graphs and pictures of disemboweled laboratory animals. Nonetheless, Prof. Haq did a good job of engaging the audience with his ideas by sheer force of personality.

He exhorted the idea that intellectualism died with Al-Ghazali's pronouncement that the scientific approach is inadequate is a gross fallacy. According to Prof. Haq, Al Ghazali was actually an exponent of rationality, going so far as to say that scientific discovery trumps a hadith or scripture; that the hadith or scripture that contravenes science or maths to be interpreted allegorically. He also moaned about the lack of Muslim physicians in 11th century Persia. 

These are not the actions or thoughts of a thinker who denigrates science. Therefore he is unlikely to be responsible for Muslim intellectuals to stop sourcing new knowledge. However, Al-Ghazali may have been misinterpreted as his original writings may be inaccessible to modern readers who have to rely upon translations and interpretations of other scholars on his work.

Yes, those scholars have no ulterior motives to misinterpret him in such a way.

And yes, I'm being facetious.

Prof. Haq felt that the problems with the Muslim world could be laid at the feet of the systematic disenfranchisement due to lack of educational reform. When the society is hobbled with the inability to process, much less generate information to solve day-to-day problems, there is no wonder why many Muslim apologists are forever looking back at the so-called Islamic "Golden Age" with nostalgia. They reiterate that a civilisation that taught Galileo and Copernicus all that they know and debunking Galen's humors is a civilisation to be reckoned with.

Yup. About 800 years ago, mate. And we now have medical imaging and use quantum physics to compute dizzying array of numbers and take pictures of galaxies that died millions of years ago in space.

When you embrace theological perversion that shuts out half of the society from participating in nation building and socioeconomic progress (the burqa, the harem, the Taliban's campaign against Malala Yousefzai to name a few), then you should not wonder why the rest of the world is outpacing you. Blaming the Jews and the Illuminati can only go so far. But then again, if you reject the use of logic and rational thinking when evaluating situations and evidence, perhaps believing in an omnipresent organisation that is out to get you is not a big stretch of the imagination. 
 And you would believe this too.

The question and answer session was nice; Prof. Haq did not shy away from hard questions that challenged the views that he presented today. He countered the idea of Islamisation of knowledge: there are no secular and religious knowledge. ALL KNOWLEDGE is Islamic, so calculus, theoretical physics, biochemistry, political science etc are all 'ilm usul ad deen (normatively called usuluddin or knowledge of the way of life). 


Prof. Haq also expressed that there is no profit in discussing whether the Shiite are outpacing the Sunnis in terms of knowledge acquisition; we should accept that as Muslims, regardless of the school of thought you embrace, we should accept each other at face value. Yay to pluralism WITHIN Islam!

Sadly, I didn't quite get his response to the query regarding how the conditional denial of decline of the Islamic civilisation is a denial of the problems faced by the Muslim world. 

Basically, my take home message from the talk and discussion was that we must encourage OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN. We should revolutionise the education system to give children an opportunity to learn everything that they could learn: from languages (beyond the national language and English) to maths, the various branches of science, as well as logic and articulation skills. We should also enrich our culture to encourage life long learning, not limiting ourselves because of age and how the new knowledge is not relevant to our work.

We must stop encouraging one field of knowledge at the expense of another. This is seen at the university level where many humanities departments are getting less funding in order to expand the technical and engineering laboratories. Soft and hard sciences have their place in this world and must be encouraged to grow and prosper.

It is only with educational opportunities that we can open minds to ideas that bring hearts to righteousness in order to fulfill our roles as the vicegerent of this Earth. However, this does not mean that you should stuff your kids' extra classes to the gills, but rather inculcate a love of learning so that they will create opportunities to learn beyond merely what is taught in school.


At least, you should hope to do so.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

Carry on and vomit acid

You think that humans are the pinnacle of the evolution?



Think again.

The vulture has cast iron stomach; no festivities over-eating will lay it low like it did us. We only see acid barfs in Hollywood movies, the vulture lives the reality. We cringe at pooping in our pants; the vultures elevate it to a sophisticated cooling system-cum-sanitation action.

So how awesome are vultures?

Very awesome.

Sadly, their numbers are dwindling, thanks to human activities (OMG, my favourite painkiller is lethal to them!) that damage their eggs, kill them directly and indirectly and other stuff. Zoroastrians and Buddhists practicing sky burials need vultures. Heck, the ecosystem need vultures; they clean up road kills, diseased animals and thus help recycle nutrients effectively.

So the next time you are tempted to say, "Ew!" and wrinkle your nose in disgust at something nature designed that aren't furry and cute, bear in mind that the creature could be more useful to the environment than you could ever be in your entire gas-guzzling, resource-over-exploiting existence.

The evolution ...

... of physics.

Why couldn't I have seen this when I actually had to sit for the exam?



*fumes*


Self pimpage

I shamelessly share my latest posts on Cowbird.

On reading and not just reciting.

On fish crackers and sibling disbelief.

Aye, I'm a comment whore. Feed my habit, please?

*bats eyelashes*

Friday, August 16, 2013

The perils of modern life


I live in a country where hundreds and even thousands of people die (or got maimed) every year from road accidents. Most are motorcyclists, but a good bit are also pedestrians, drivers, and passengers in public vehicles. If you want the figures, go ahead and Google it. It's very depressing.

The numbers say that most of the fatal traffic accidents are caused by human error. This does not mean the non-fatal ones are not caused by human error. It's just that no one died so no one really cared about the causes of the accident, except for the insurance adjusters. Human error usually means the operator of the vehicle had catastrophic misjudgment(s). For example, overtaking dangerously, driving on the emergency lane and hitting a stationary vehicle, taking perilous curves at unsuitable speeds, inadequate vehicle maintenance making it prone for accidents,  the list goes on. One of the major factors is loss of attention while driving, which could be because the guy slept at 4 am watching a footie match and fell into microsleep behind the wheel, or was using the mobile phone, or trying to grab the mobile phone that fell below the seat and so on.

The mobile phone is one of the most amazing addition to the modern life. It has revolutionised how we communicate, the speed at which information (truth and lies) spread, and the number of people who could get connected. The mobile phone had fueled the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement. The mobile phone has helped expose uncomfortable truth about schoolroom bullying, indifferent citizens, rape in real time and much, much more.

This hyper connectivity feeds the pleasure centre in our brain, making us feel good when we get our fix, nail-bitingly anxious when we can't get a hit. Our mobile phones are so versatile: it is our umbilical cord to those we love (or want to talk to), entertainment centre, camera, computer and I am sure you can come up with more uses for your mobile phone. It's no wonder that we love it, have a relationship with it, and mourn when it is out of date (3 months from the date of purchase) and are ecstatic when we get the latest gadget with all the bells and whistles.

Like many, I will bet that when you leave your house, apart from your keys and wallet, you make sure that you have your mobile phone with you, right? Because it has gone beyond a luxury into a necessity of our modern life. We check our mobile assiduously while we are on dates, watching movies, at concerts/funerals/weddings/graduation, eating with our family and even while we are in the loo. We never stopped fondling our mobile phones even while we drive, no matter how our forebrain tells us that it is a dangerous and stupid thing to be doing.



I know it's a bit lengthy for a public service announcement. Nonetheless, it's still gripping and visceral, created by a film-maker well known for making arty films. I swiped the video from here.

That said, I don't know if it will stop me from texting/Whatsapping/e-mailing/playing Word Feud while driving.

Because accidents only happen to other people, right?

Right?

In the mood for ...

... steampunk!


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ugly Girl

I've been attending a short course for creative writing. This piece was prompted by the video below:



Usual disclaimer: Fictitious depiction of fictitious people, not related to anyone living or dead etc etc. And no, I've never been to New York City.

(crossposted)

*****************************************************************

Charlie was nibbling my toes, working his way up my right leg, paying attention to a most delicious spot on the back of my knees before repeating with my left leg. Then suddenly, he started lavishing attention on my chin. Come on, Charlie, that’s not an erogenous zone for me, you know that.

I woke up to Percy’s rough tongue cleaning the drool off my chin; I could barely breathe thanks to his 15 pounds bulk on my chest. Gently, I pushed him off of me and wiped my chin with the sheet. The watery light of early summer penetrated the gauzy curtains of my loft windows, illuminating the mess I made when I tossed out the remainder of Charlie’s things. I missed Charlie when I was horny; although he’s such a pontificating prick, he’s really one of the best lovers I’ve had. Generous to a fault; that’s Charlie. Must be his left wing tendencies.

I stretched until my shoulder joints popped before heading to the kitchen to get Percy his kibble. My kitchen was like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, thanks to the long hours I had been putting in since last month to complete the new ad project for Givenchy. The art director was a pain in the ass, but he’s a mad genius at crafting images that make people open their wallets and demand that you take their money. He not only worked crazy hours, he worked at ALL hours. Thank God that bastard was no longer my problem. The client seemed happy with the results, so I can expect a fat bonus in my paycheque this month. I made a mental note to swing by Kate Spade to see if the purple patent leather stilettos that I eyed last month were still available in size 6.

Percy twined his sinuous body around my ankles, purring at the sound of the can opener. I bent to pour his food into his dish, ruffling his Angora-soft fur around the ruff of his neck, not covered by the jewelled collar I got from Bloomingdale’s. I sipped my first java of the day while idly scrolling through my diary app. Oh shit. I’m supposed to have Ellora, Jimmy, Devon and Trey over for dinner tonight. The only thing edible in my apartment (apart from Percy’s prime organic kibble) was a slice of Gruyere and a suspect-looking bagel in the fridge. I slid the bagel with the Gruyere on it into the toaster and sat at the counter to plan the dinner menu.

After completing my shopping list, I hit the shower and dressed to go to Piscary’s, my favourite whole-foods grocer on West 67th. I had a look at my reflection in the hallway mirror before leaving, with a last pat to smooth my artless braid that made me look like a Teutonic model gone farm chic, I locked my door.

Piscary’s was still deserted at this relatively early hour. I snagged a shopping cart and begun grabbing the things I needed to make dinner. I know I don’t look it, but I am actually an excellent chef. The three months I spent in Paris after high school were not all about making goo goo eyes at cute French boys. I was considering the truffle oil from Tuscany when I heard a familiar voice.

For an instant I flashbacked to this morning’s dream, before I was rudely woken by Percy. Before I could enact a strategic retreat, his familiar lanky figure appeared around the end of the aisle, pushing a half full cart. There was a woman beside him, but I only had eyes for Charlie. His hair was the familiar, shiny mop that I secretly envied, the torso toned by rock climbing carelessly sheathed in an old college ball team tee. His cargo shorts exposed muscular calves lightly dusted with dark hair, his size twelve feet shod in the flip flops he bought when we were in Rio last summer. Jerking myself out of my paralysis, I pulled my cart to execute a neat three point turn in the other direction when I heard, “Ashlee?”
        
Busted. I pretended to just notice him and faked a start. “Charlie? Hi!” My lips curved in a wide, semi-sincere smile. He was close enough that I could smell his after shave, the Davidoff I bought for him last Christmas. He still smelled as good as ever, the rat bastard. 

His dark eyes crinkled at the corner as he grinned at me. It looked like he wasn’t as broken hearted as I had hoped when I kicked him out of my life. He even had a fresh tan, for God’s sake, clearly he had gone somewhere outdoorsy for a good time, not moping in his apartment crying his eyes out over me. He grabbed his companion’s hand to pull her closer to me, a long arm curved around her body for a cuddle.

“You look just as good as ever, doll. Hey, I want you to meet someone. Jay, this is Ashlee, my ex. Ashlee, this is Jay,” he beamed. Really, does this man not know the etiquette of introducing his more gorgeous ex to his current girlfriend? Where was the expected awkwardness? The longing glances to gorgeous ex (i.e. me), with undercurrents of “Take me back, Ashlee!” to enhance the moment?
            
“Hi, Ashlee. I’m Jay. Nice to meet you,” said Charlie’s companion, her voice a mellow alto with a slight smoker’s rasp. I took a good look at her, studying my replacement.

In a word, she was round. Big, round, brown eyes behind John Lennon-style glasses in a round face that topped a round body. Her boobs stretched a t-shirt that said, “No Child Left Behind” with a background of some white plane and little children running away. Probably some hipster political statement, but whatever. Her HUGE hips were accentuated by the pleated, ankle length gauzy skirt, the peach clashing with the grey of her t-shirt. The chartreuse paint on her toes was chipped; my God doesn’t this woman know to get a pedicure? Judging by her haphazard curly hair and dressing, she’d probably be appalled to pay for a decent mani pedi; it looked like a lousy home done paint job.

“Hi,” I replied without enthusiasm. This must be his rebound girlfriend, that’s why Charlie wasn’t so discriminating. A floozy with no style was the best that he could do? Hah.

“Jay and I were picking up a few things to take to Mom’s.”

To take to his Mom? That witch hated me with the intensity of a thousand suns and the feeling was mutual. I’ve only ever gone to her house ONCE for Thanksgiving and it was hell.

“Yeah, it’s Kennedy’s birthday and I promised that I’d make her lunch and cake,” the way that woman smiled up to Charlie was positively sickening. I could feel my hands curling around the shopping cart handle to stop me from clawing her eyes out. I couldn’t believe that Charlie’s bratty niece had taken a shine to her. I bought that kid the latest Bratz doll for Christmas and she sniffed at me with a barely audible thank you; but she liked this woman enough to ask her to cook her birthday treat?

“How nice,” I commented with syrupy sweet insincerity. God, I need to get away from these two. If I didn’t need the stuff in my cart for the dinner tonight, I would’ve dumped it and walked away right now. This must be Hell.

“I saw that you were looking at Perrini’s truffle oil? You should give Alligheri’s a try; they’re a little cheaper but the truffle scent is more intense,” Jay offered. Like I would take her advice for anything. I would ignore her cries for me to stop, drop and roll even if I were on fire.

“It’s okay, I’ve used Perrini’s before and it won me blue ribbon three years in a row at the gourmand festival in the Village,” I snarked back.

“Really? That’s fabulous. Charlie told me what a great cook you are. Me, I just stick to the staples,” she laughed self-deprecatingly.

“I think we better make a move, Jay. The party is supposed to start at two,” Charlie darted an uneasy glance at me. I guess he finally felt the undercurrents.

“Yeah, you’re right, hon. Have to let the beer batter breathe before we fry the chicken anyway. It’s been great meeting you, Ashlee,” she smiled and extended her hand.

I would rather pick up an angry cobra than her hand but my Mama had instilled lady-like qualities in her only daughter so I reached across to give it a half-hearted pump. Her palms were warm and slightly calloused; God, didn’t the woman ever moisturise?

“Likewise. See you around, Charlie, Jay …” I managed a smile. With a wave, they left the aisle, having added a bottle of extra virgin olive oil to their cart they headed to the checkout counter. I don’t think Charlie’s ever had his arms around my waist quite so protectively the way he did with that woman’s thick waist, back fat undulating gently above her skirt’s waistband.

I sniffed back the tears that unexpectedly welled. Charlie Westen wasn’t the richest or the best looking boyfriend I’ve had, but he was one of the sweetest and gentlest. Sometimes his gentleness made me grit my teeth, the way he’d let people over take him on the road, or letting an old man cut in front of him in the line. He was a genuinely kind person and was possibly one of the best men I’ve ever known (and I’ve known quite a lot, biblically and otherwise). But I don’t think I’m meant to end up with a boy scout, especially one who’s very vocal about his loss of faith in Obama.

But the rogue tears did not fall, and I refuse to mourn for Charlie any more. I have broken up with him, and I will move ON. Jimmy promised that he’d try to bring his squash partner that I’ve eyed a few times along to dinner tonight and even if he didn’t make my heart flutter, but at least he should have the stamina to make things interesting between the sheets.

I pushed my cart towards the frozen goods aisle. Time to pick up the ingredients for my to die-for crème brulee. I have guests to impress and no time to ponder over what ifs. I firmly pushed any and all thoughts of Charlie and his new girlfriend to the back of my mind and determinedly continued my food shopping.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ramadhan Karim!

Tomorrow is the first day of the fasting month for Muslims in Malaysia. In other parts of the world, some would have started today already or even the day after. This is all because of the elusive moon; with the air pollutants these days, it is quite likely that with the naked eye, one could mistake a low orbiting satellite for the much anticipated sliver of the moon.


Ramadhan marks the month where Muslims are expected to abstain from food and drink and sex from dawn to sunset. Luckily for us in the equator, the duration of the day is pretty the same year round and takes roughly 13.5 hours.  It pays to be in the Antarctica for this Ramadhan season rather than Alaska, let me tell you. For those in the northern hemisphere, Ramadhan falls during the peak of summer this year; eighteen hours of daylight is no walk in the park to go without water and sustenance, not to mention the scorching heat. It is a good thing that the Islamic calendar is a lunar one; at least you can experience fasting during spring, summer, fall and winter. Imagine if Ramadhan is stuck in summer only ... oh wait. It would be kind of like the Aussies and Kiwis knowing nothing but summery Christmas, yeah?

Nonetheless, we are expected to suck it up and demonstrate the strength of our faith. I started fasting when I was seven in Primary One, though with some cheating ("What are you doing in the bathroom?" "Just peeing," and I swallowed the deliciously cold tap water in a hurry.). Unlike the parents of most my peers, mine did not believe in monetary reward for adhering to the edicts of our faith, so there were no dollar a day for complete fast. 

Oh well. Bribery is bad, right?

There was a cartoon by Lat that I remembered fondly about fasting. Sadly, I couldn't source it, but it portrayed Epit, one of his Kampung Boy characters, who was not fasting because he was still a small child. As such, he was not allowed to join the breaking of the fast meal and had to wait below the house (traditional Malay houses were built on stilts) for charity from his siblings, commonly in the form of a banana smuggled through the window.

Before I attended boarding school in my secondary years, I never thought that boys would cheat during the fasting month. I have always thought of how lucky the males are to not menstruate and having to replace the missed days of fasting. During the tarawih prayer one evening, the prayer leader, who was an Islamic Studies teacher and warden at the male dormitory, made a comment about scenting instant noodle cooking in the boys' corridor. Unlike Epit, these big boys could partake the breaking of fast meal in the cafeteria, pretending virtuousness of a complete day of fasting.

The fasting month also marks the time when the evening traffic will be snarled to road rage-inciting insanity, thanks to food markets, called pasar Ramadhan, catering specifically for the breaking of fast meal.

Stolen from http://lhakim-suarahati.blogspot.com/2012/08/kaut-untung-atas-angin-pada-bulan.html
These markets usually starts operating at about 3 pm and are usually located around high traffic concentration areas. They would offer all kind of delicacies, ranging from appetisers to main course to desserts, and a plethora of cold drinks that only makes its appearance during the Ramadhan. As much as these markets cause the traffic to seize, its presence is highly looked forward to by foodies to source for their evening meal. I am rather meh about them; there had been many instances that I would walk home from the pasar Ramadhan empty-handed, not having seen anything that I would actually pay money to consume. I think this is the bane of cooking at home. You would look at something and think:

"I could make that thing myself, and for that price, I could make enough for ten people to eat."

...or ...

"So obvious that they cheated with the coconut ... looks like leftover after the coconut milk has been extracted ..."

... or ...

"Is that supposed to be appetising? That chicken looked like it's been recycled from yesterday's dinner service."

... and so on.

It is ironic that the month for people to rein in their base desires and train their bodies for self control is also the month where people abuse their body with food and drink. Some people seem to think that just because they skipped lunch and second breakfast and tea, they can mentekedarah (eat everything in sight) when dusk arrive. Malaccans use the word mencekik to describe this, which literally means to strangle or eat until you can't breathe anymore.



So you have people over eating, or worse, wasting food. The pasar Ramadhan offers one avenue for waste; when hungry people go food shopping, they tend to over estimate how much they can eat and end up buying too much. The other one are the buffet offers, that range from a modest RM 26.90++ per pax to ridiculous RM 139.90++ and even more at high end hotels. If you had to fork out that much to eat at the buffet, won't you over stuff yourself just to justify the amount that you've paid?

However, I do miss the McDonald's Ramadhan buffet. Once upon a time, the stand along McDonalds (not the ones in shopping malls) would offer Ramadhan buffets; the more people you bring along, the cheaper it was. I think this would have been the few times that McDonalds may not make the kind of return they usually expect; people who come to eat at this buffet tend to be serious about putting away their food.

The McDonalds buffet is the only one that I have ever gone to that you don't really see people wasting food. It was probably because the time for you to get the food is limited (from 7 pm to 8.30 pm only) and you have to queue at the counter to order before you can get your food. So you are not going past an array of food from which you fill your plate (which would cause the primitive part of your brain to maniacally pile food on your plate) and you are limited by the number of stuff you can put on your plastic brown tray.

I've been to it twice, once with my Assunta girlfriends and another time with my uni mates. The trick to making the most of this buffet is drinking nothing but hot tea, sans sugar and creamer. Cold drinks will make you drink too much and you won't have much space to stuff your gullet. We were evil enough to bring large bags to smuggle extras home to the gang in the house. One of the guys from uni actually put two quarter pounder patties together into one gigantic burger, smushed it to a more manageable thickness and ate the whole thing. On top of the Big Mac, fries and assorted other stuff that went down his throat.

Good times.

The thing is, Ramadhan is about reminding you about the good things that you do have. The blessing of water when you are thirsty, the food when you are hungry. Around the world, millions of people go to bed hungry on a daily basis. Many die from malnutrition and even starvation. It is ironic that as the waistline of the world kept growing, there are still sections of the population who still do not have enough to eat. We are supposed to reflect on what it is like to be without, and to be more charitable to those who are in need.

I hope to do better this Ramadhan, to subdue my base instincts and cultivate better habits (I'm not holding my breath, though). This is a jihad, a struggle, to become better, and Allah in His Infinite Kindness, rewards us for doing something that we should be doing for ourselves. Done properly, fasting can help you regulate your metabolism and lose some inches (although how long the inches remain lost vary with your effort). One tends to sleep earlier to wake up for sahur (the morning meal), which can correct any previous sleep deprivation. One tends to be more mindful of one's speech, avoiding inane chatter and cursing, which would be good for developing a more pleasant personality.

All in all, I am looking forward to enjoying myself this Ramadhan! I hope it will be a great one for you too!

Monday, June 24, 2013

I want to shoot ...

... the whole day down.



Too bad if you like the Boomtown Rats original. I think Tori's version wins cos it makes you want to take a razor to your jugular more than the bratty original version.

Have a great week ahead, everyone!

Adrift in bliss. ..

It's late...and I have Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy's soundtrack on while I wrap my niece's books. The mournful trumpet wails in the foreground while sinister violins accompany the plaintive, tinkling of the piano.

Somehow it reminds me of the time I walked on the cobblestone streets of Istanbul. l was my snugly clad in my new patchwork bather jacket, ignoring the pinch of the new leather boots that threatened to slip from under me on the slick pavement. The air was redolent with the scent of coal smoke, strangely fragrant, unlike the stinging haze currently blanketing my city & country. Winter lent a crispness to the air; cool & moist near the shores of Bosphorus while inland the air was colder & dry.

The streets of Istanbul were clean & confusing. Wide tarmac thoroughfares were few in the maze of Byzantine slick cobblestones. We saw no stray  animals save cats. Turkish cats were fat, with healthy fluffy fur coats. They were friendly animals, obliging of cuddles from strangers even without food incentives.

Today I read & watch more unrest in the beautiful city. Protests over the Taksim square have evolved into something bigger & uglier, fueled by resentment & anger. Ordinary citizens battle & batter the authorities daily, the pretty streets strewn with rubble & burnt rubbish as protestors lob Molotov cocktails hither & yonder.

Outsiders like me would think that the Turks should have no complains. As more EU economies rumble & crumble, Turkey has been enjoying unprecedented growth. No longer are they the Sick Man of Europe. The horrendous inflation that saw me pay 1.7 million Turkish Lira for a tiny handbag is a thing of the past.

However, the threat to destroy one of the last vestiges of greenery in a city that is calcifying in towering structures in the name of progress has gotten the citizens up in arms. Personally, I feel that another shopping mall is superfluous, what more an edifice paying tribute to a shameful mark in Turkish history (the Janissary barracks look-alike was in the architecture plan. The Janissary was an elite military corps that were populated by stolen Christian boys who were forced to convert to Islam & serve the Ottoman empire.).

Whatever the spark that ignited the rage fueling the protests, it is not the first time that Istanbul was rocked by civil unrest. It won't be the last. The city between two continents, watered by the Marmara & the Bosphorus, will continue to witness the drama of the Turkish people. Joy & sorrow, success & failure, elation & despair, the cycle plays on until the annihilation of mankind.

The conspiracy theorist in me suspects that there are unseen hands fanning the passion of the protestors, similar to that in my country. But like Turkey, the prosperity enjoyed in Malaysia breeds a different sense of discontent. When all of Maslow's pyramid of needs have been fulfilled, people begin to look for other aspirations to give structure & meaning to their life. Something loftier than the struggle for survival in the past. The siren call of civil liberties are only audible when one's no longer worrying about from where the next mouthful will be coming.

The cross dressing TV personality in Pakistan who was interviewed by Diego for the show, Don't Tell My Mom Where I Went (or something like that) was asked whether he is fighting for LGBT rights in his show. His candid reply was that Pakistan had bigger problems to solve such as violence & corruption. For two men or women to have the right to make love is not even on the table of the important things to be solved.

Although many people of Turkey decried their duly elected Prime Minister, I'll bet the people of Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Syria & many other countries ravaged by unrest, economic meltdown etc. would dearly love to have Reccip Tayyip Erdogan take a hand to manage their country. Someone who will suppress the infighting & foster prosperity will be a welcome change to the incompetent regime currently holding the reins as they head pell mell for hell...

Then again, you'll never miss the water till it's gone.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Your health is in the toilet

I am sure many of you have seen this story before:

You don't need brains to be a Boss.


When the body was first created, all the parts wanted to be Boss.

The brain said, "I should be Boss because I control all of the body's responses and functions."

The feet said, "We should be Boss since we carry the brain about and get him to where he wants to go."

The hands said, "We should be the Boss because we do all the work and earn all the money."

Finally, the asshole spoke up. "What about me? Why can't I be the boss?"

All the other body parts laughed at the idea of the asshole being the Boss. So, the asshole went on strike, blocked itself up and refused to work.

Within a short time, the eyes became crossed, the hands clenched, the feet twitched, the heart and lungs began to panic, and the brain fevered. Eventually, they all decided that the asshole should be the Boss, so the motion was passed. All the other parts did all the work while the Boss just sat and passed out the shit!

Moral Of The Story: You don't need a brain to be a Boss----any asshole will do.

Stolen from here with edits.

Many people think that bodily functions (and its accompanying sight, sound and scent) are gross and embarrassing. The Japanese took it to another level by inventing a device to disguise the sounds you make in a public loo. Nevertheless, when you have problems with your your plumbing (front or back or both), you know that you will be in for a miserable time.

I had a cousin who was hospitalised (when he was in his late eighties) for problems with urinating. When we came to visit, he grabbed my Dad's shirt and hissed to my Dad, asking Dad to stab him to death; he does not want to live anymore.

I am sure those who have watched The Green Mile remember the tears that flowed down the prison guard's cheek (as played by Tom Hanks) at the fiery burn of peeing with urinary tract infection.  Really, not being able to pee is no joke.

What comes in, must come out. So your output could also indicate the state of your health, whether you have an infection or not, or a physiological issue. If you decide to go back today and examine your bodily output to gauge your health, you can refer to the diagram below, courtesy of a pal.



I can't figure out how to make it appear right so please click here for larger version.

May you enjoy a healthy and happy life!

Friday, June 14, 2013

You won't even miss it!

"Today I lost weight. Close to half a kg. Ask me how!"

The last time I posted the above on Facebook I got tonnes of hits within 5 minutes asking me how. It's really very easy.

Just donate blood.

Stolen from here:http://www.rhireading.com/2012/08/wr-0810-0812-ambitions-donations.html

Once upon a time, when people embraced the "humour" theory of human physiology,  drawing blood from sick people to make them better was practiced. Nothing like throwing away a bowl of blood from a man suffering from a gunshot wound to make him better, right?

But once we figured out that the red stuff that circulates inside you is kinda vital to your well-being, we tend to want to keep it inside us. After that, some smart guy figured out that those who have lost (from stuff like injury, ulcers, etc) or have not enough blood (anemia) could be saved by giving them the sweet red stuff. The first successful blood transfusion was done in 1818 to save a mother who has lost a lot of blood while giving birth. What's amazing was that this was done before blood typing or cross-matching was even a glimmer of an idea and that the patient did not die of transfusion reaction.

For history of blood transfusion, read here.

Whole blood and blood products (e.g. platelets, clotting factors, plasma) have a plethora of use to keep people alive and healthy. Due to the risks in using and difficulty in managing blood products, doctors do not willynilly prescribe transfusion for sick people. Therefore, for those who require transfusion, it truly is a matter of life and death. However, there are athletes keep stock of their blood and re-transfuse before an important race/match in order to increase their performance. That situation don't count.

I try to make it a point to donate blood every three months or so. It was easier when I worked at the Faculty of Medicine of a teaching hospital, but now that I work farther away, it takes effort. *sigh*

I was alerted by a former colleague-cum-friend who works at the blood bank about the World Blood Donor Day and would I be a darling to come and donate on June 14th? So I moseyed over after lunch with a trio of friends and did the deed.

Lo and behold, to my surprise, there were door gifts!

Goodie bag and contents.

Content of small silver box above.

Content of the other box.

I know this post isn't as pretty as the ones that Ms. Goh have on her blog, but it was kinda inspired by her.

^___^

Anyway, this is just a PSA to ask you to be lovely and part with some of the lovely red stuff you have running in your veins. You make new ones every day and you won't even miss the amount that is taken. It doesn't hurt (they inject you with a numbing agent first) and it takes only 30 minutes of your time (from registration to drinks and snack). If you live around Klang Valley, you can contact the University of Malaya Medical Centre Blood Bank or consult with the National Blood Centre for their mobile campaigns for those outside of Klang Valley.

Please don't give lame excuses like, "I'm afraid of needles/pains/nurses/whatever" to avoid donating blood if you have an opportunity. There are many reasons why some people are excluded as donors, but seriously, cowardice isn't one of them.

Go out and save three lives! You can be a hero outside of a comic book too!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jalan-jalan cari makan ...

... extreme polar edition.



I don't eat molluscs; but I suppose seal and whale meat day in and day out would get old during the long winter months. The  people of Kangiqsujuaq apparently laughs in the face of death racing against time to collect mussels for a change in their seasonal diet.

Thirty minutes is all they have to hack through the sea ice, grab the delicious mussels and get out. They risk drowning in the frigid Arctic water as the ocean rushes back with the rising tide or being crushed by the shifting polar sea ice.

Can you imagine dying just because you are beyond sick of what is available on the dining table? Malaysians pride our country as a some kind of food Mecca. No matter what your palate favour, you can find it here; cordon blu haute cuisine, weird meats and sago worms, whatever you want, really.

The reality of what was shown in the video above is something that many Malaysians cannot envision, except perhaps those who live in the rural areas or experience economic hardships. This disconnection about where food comes from is probably a contributing reason as to why Malaysians waste food. In the face of the many people who go without, are malnourished or have only one meal a day, do we think about food beyond what we want to eat?

Do we also think about the way the food we eat are sourced? We haggle over the price of fish and seafood, blithely ignoring the warnings of the devastation of over-fishing and the hardships faced by the fishermen to bring their catch to land. We think we are animal lovers, and yet we close a blind eye to inhumane farming practices and abuse of antibiotics and hormones on livestock that we consume. We take for granted the vegetables and fruits we enjoy year around that are grown under unsustainable conditions that also poison our water supply.

For all the ranting above, I am cynically aware of my own apathy about where my food comes from. Unless you are an activist type, reading or even knowing about the stuff outlined above remains nothing more than an academic exercise. I read Fast Food Nation and it still didn't stop me from eating at Mickey D (I reason that the supplier for the Mickey D here are either local or from developing countries that need the economic growth).

That said, I do think that we should be more grateful with and for everything that crosses our lips to enter our gullet. Honour the food that nourishes you; respect the hard work that got it on your plate (your own, the food producer and procurer and the person who cooked it for you) and enjoy it. Don't take it for granted.

Because you could be an Inuit who died because you are tired of eating seal and wanted to have some mussels instead.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The weekend is here!

I just read a fanfic inspired by this ad. Arthur, OMG.

*dreamy eyes*

OMG this is just nuts.

 


 Have a good weekend, y'all!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Secrets of a stay at home mommy



The ExpatsThe Expats by Chris Pavone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

*edited because I am wide awake and could assemble my thoughts better.

I had stopped reading spy thrillers or any kind of thrillers in my late teens. I find them formulaic and depressing, though I still enjoy over-the-top, psycho-sociopath Bond as written by Ian Fleming and the crazy adventures in Alistair Maclean's novels. The latter I treat with respect; some of his books made me cry crazy buckets (say, Guns of Navarone or HMS Ulysses).

When I read the review of this book in The Sunday Star, I was intrigued. A former spy female protagonist in a thriller? Bring it to mama, sugar.

Sadly, as a reader who favours characters over plots, I don't find Mr Pavone's characterisation of Kate convincing. I am willing to forgive clunky story telling if I love the characters (I'm looking at you, Laurell K Hamilton). Somehow, I don't think a female former spy would let matters of trust and privacy to stop her from finding things out about her husband when she sniffed something suspicious about his new job.

Also, as the story was near totally from her POV, I find that Kate I is ... boring. I get that she has to make a huge transition from being a CIA analyst to being an expatriate hausfrau, but her desperation at the banality of her life is so ... meh. Perhaps she's not a larger-than-life character as I am used to reading in other genres, but seriously, it's hard to want to root for her. Or her husband. Or the antagonist characters. They're all so meh. You expect some unexpected jalapenos somewhere when you read about spies (they have licence to kill!) but this is like consuming a huge bowl of oatmeal pudding. Bland and never ending.

The timeline jumps did not help matters. It's a bit disorienting because the flashes are disjointed; what does it have to do with what's currently going on? Perhaps if I re-read the book I can pick up the pattern of the chronological leaps, but I really cannot be bothered to re-read this.

However, I will admit that Mr Pavone has a gift for describing scenes that really makes you feel like you're a part of the scenery, even smell the coffee served at the corner boulangerie. For instance:

"She can see past the woman to the bright, leafy courtyard at the other end of the dark breeezeway whose walls are filled with mailboxes and electrical junctions and rubbish bins and loose wires and chained-up bicycles. Her own building has a similar passage; there are thousands of them in Paris. All competing for the best-place-to-kill-someone award."

It was an interesting foray into the genre, but I don't think I'll be picking up another sample anytime soon.

Male protagonist: 1/5 stars
Female protagonist: 2/5 stars
Storyline: 3/5 stars
Pacing: 2/5 stars
Fun Factor: 2/5 stars
Repeat Reading Factor: 1/5 stars

View all my reviews