The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. “

I love this book even as I’m sucked into the throes of its deepest tragedies. Even as I’d watched the movie midway through the book, I was unprepared for its ending. Nazism, constant bombings, war-torn countries and broken families set the backdrop amidst the seemingly detached, occasionally soulful, narration by a nameless, hooded Death – a collector of souls whom have left their earthly bodies. Markus Zusak’s book is a lingering remnant of World War II – Deah narrates the chance encounters between himself and Liesel Meminger, a foster child on 33 Himmel Street, Germany.

“He was waving. “Saukerl,” she laughed, and as she held up her hand, she knew completely that he was simultaneously calling her a Saumensch. I think that’s as close to love as eleven-year-olds can get.” 

I loved Rudy Steiner in this book – the movie couldn’t give him half the heroic credit he deserved. Rudy Steiner was: Three times Hitler Youth Athletics medallist; a bread-giver to starving Jews even as his own stomach was growling; a straight A student even though all he ever did was rebel – and all he ever wanted was Liesel’s kiss. Liesel and Rudy’s subtle puppy love breaks my heart all the time, especially towards the end.

“Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.” – Max Vandenburg

Max Vandenburg is a master of words. He is the Jew in the basement whom Liesel and her family hides. He is saved by words, Liesel’s words to be exact, when each night he laid unconscious in bed he was fed with a multitude of words. With determination to thank the girl he weaves and leaves behind stories of a lifetime and more. Like Rudy, Max wishes to beat the crap out of the Führer and hence his story is that of the Jewish fist-fighter.

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.” (On Hans Hubermann)

Liesel’s foster father, Hans Hubermann, is the reason why I still believe in good people. He loves Liesel like his own, teaches her to write and read, receives a beating for feeding a Jew, and is deeply indebted to the man who first taught him to play the accordion (and died on his behalf), so much so that he was willing to hide a Jew in the basement to return the favour. In much of the book, he is the doting father. A saint.

Liesel’s foster mother Rosa Hubermann rules with an iron fist but is the epitome of a hard shell with the softest core. Her unappreciated pea soup shows up a lot, and the hardship of Germans in the 1940s were best illustrated by how much food Rosa puts on the table each night. As loud as she gets, her soft-heartedness beams through whenever Liesel has her back turned because that’s when Rosa shows how much she actually loves her foster child.

“The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. (Death)” 

Death’s cryptic final words: I am haunted by humans.
The book will break your heart from its sheer brutality (all masked by the predominant story until the concluding chapter where it all comes too close for comfort).

“At first, she could not talk. Perhaps it was the sudden bumpiness of love she felt for him. Or had she always loved him?” 

And the happy ending is left to your own imagination. Who exactly was the husband Liesel spends a lifetime with before Death comes to her?

“A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH
I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.” -DEATH

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Book Review: Hard to Handle

I received this book in exchange for an honest review, and here it is!
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Published October 1st 2013 by Forever (Grand Central Publishing)

MY REVIEW:
Coming across a Jessica Lemmon work for the first time, I’m impressed by her clear and illustrative writing. Unlike most chick-lit or contemporary popular fiction, she doesn’t have a lag or a black-hole in the plot… plus she has a way with suspense and I suspect she could also write a rad thriller piece too!

With a Harley and tattoos to boost, Aiden Downey is one helluva guy. His ex-wife left for his real estate business partner, and his mother had recently died from cancer. Tragedy turns a guy batshit crazy, or so it seems! When thrown together for a year, Sadie Howard cannot imagine the life ahead of her…having had her heart broken once by the same man she’s not about to make the same mistake – not when the sparks are obviously flying and she’s about to fall for a guy with more baggage than than she can handle.

The nice twists in the middle leaves readers wondering what’s about to happen next! A good romance fiction, definitely.

SYNOPSIS
ONCE BURNED Sadie Howard never dates a guy more than once-but Fate has other plans for her when it comes to Aiden Downey, the one that got away. Aiden loved her, left her, and broke her heart. Yet suddenly she’s bumping into him at every turn, driven to distraction by his wicked grin and rock-hard body. Now she can’t resist finishing what they started-as long as she doesn’t let herself fall in love…

TWICE AS TEMPTING Aiden Downey threw away the best thing he ever had when he let Sadie go, and now he’s determined to win back the woman he’s always wanted. Sadie agrees to let him into her life-and her bed-as long as there are no strings attached. But Aiden’s not about to make the same mistake again. Can he convince her to take a second chance on a once-in-a-lifetime love?

Book Review: Autumn in the Vineyard

I received this book from Montlake Romance in exchange for a review, and here it is!
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Published October 29th 2013 by Montlake Romance

MY REVIEW:

For such a serious title, the book is helluva funny! Beginning with the Alpaca crisis in Chapter One, to Frankie kicking Nate’s balls and yelling bloody murder, I’m caught between laughing out loud and seriously thinking through the vineyard disputes in the story.

Land acquisitions and ancient family feuds play a large part in forming the backbone of what goes on between the DeLucas and Baudouins. When it came down to the economics of the vineyard it gets very technical with a few estate and vinery jargons. It also tends to get boring and dry as the characters attempt to iron out the property details between their families. Frankly, I skipped through a couple of those pages to get ahead.

Frankie is one of few tough novel heroines I’m impressed by. She’s intelligent, diligent, stands her ground and is never afraid to speak up, or on may occasions, threaten to shoot at Nate. Frankie’s never-back-down fiery temper ignites the sparks between her and Nate, who finds himself drawn to the tough cookie.

Nate is a laidback, funny and dangerous – a straight heartbreaker and deadly charming Italian. Their development undergoes a long arduous breaking-in process, as what he feels for Frankie deepens with amusement and admiration instead of a conventional love at first sight. Nate’s was pure lust with zero emotions at first sight.

At certain points in the novel, the book gets draggy. Perhaps I found the caretaking process of the vineyard a tad boring for my taste. No doubt, though, that Marina Adair is extremely knowledgeable in that aspect and adept at bringing this to life. Some descriptions were breathtaking and I could almost feel the vineyard springing to life. Such is what I enjoyed most about this novel – the deep knowledge of French wines – embedded in the pages. A truly enlightening book.

Ratings: 6.8 / 10

SYNOPSIS:

Frankie Baudouin has a hundred reasons not to trust Nate DeLuca. First, he’s a DeLuca. Second, he kissed her—in front of the entire town—and then never called. Oh, and he’s after her land. Sorrento Ranch is Frankie’s last chance to prove to her family—and to herself—that she has what it takes to be an award-winning winemaker. And she will stop at nothing to ensure her success—even if it means playing nice with the starched, sophisticated, and oh-so-sexy Italian.

For Nate, Sorrento Ranch is more than just soil and grape vines; it was his father’s dream—a dream Nate is determined to make a reality. So when he finds himself forced to cohabitate with a hot-headed, irrational, and incredibly gorgeous Baudouin, Nate is surprised to discover that chaos could be so much fun—especially when she sleeps in nothing but lace.

Book Review: The State We’re In

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Publisher: Headline Review
Date Published: 4th July 2013
My Ratings: 7 / 10
Average Goodreads Ratings: 3.9 / 5

SYNOPSIS:
What are the odds that the stranger sitting next to you on a plane is destined to change your life? Especially when they appear to be your opposite in every way.

She’s a life-long optimist, looking for her soul mate in every man she meets; he’s a resolute cynic – cruel experience has taught him never to put his faith in anyone.

People can surprise you. In the time it takes to fly from London to Chicago, each finds something in the other that they didn’t even realise they needed.

Their pasts are such that they can never make one another happy and it’s when they get off the plane, that their true journey begins…

REVIEW:
At times, Joanna (Jo) Russell’s naivety gets on my nerves. She attempts to salvage a youthful mistake of ditching a fiance at the altar, by flying 300miles to wreck his upcoming wedding. That simply shows how much of a tragically hopeful romantic she is. I hated her less when she’s simply unhinged and having fun, while not harbouring thoughts of how romantic love is the one thing that should determine how you run your career and life.

The story runs beautifully. We see a parallel story running side-by-side, an almost continuation of the affair that never was. On one hand Eddie Taylor at his bedside and the son that he had left 29 years ago, Dean, flies over to bid him hello and farewell, but leaves for his house in Chicago in a fit of anger when he discovers that it was not Eddie who had asked to see him, but the meddlesome nurse who felt sorry that no next-of-kin was holding the dying man’s hand. On the other hand, delusional Jo Russell leaves her parent’s house and flies to Chicago to stop her ex-fiance – Martin’s – wedding, determined that the letter of invitation was a cry for help, and that Martin was pleading with her to not hold her peace. Somehow, she was inclined to believe that she had to take him away from his current bride-to-be. That Martin was the One.

I mean, who in their right state of mind still believes in the One?

Fate, or whatever forces that be, dictated that Dean and Jo were to spend 10 hours in the pressured tube bound for Chicago in the Club Class. The moments of emotional upheaval that they shared were rather less physically intimate than usually required for Dean to feel for anybody, but in rare cases more fictional like this, Dean cared for the delusional 35-year-old.

The forces that be also created a tragic interweaving of their histories. The father that Dean came to abhor happened to have left Dean, his mother and sister, 29 years ago, for the woman that happened to be Jo Russell’s mother – Clara Russell. And in a dramatic irony, Jo finds out that her ideal picture of what family had been and should be, was destroyed by a single phone call revealing that after decades of marriage, her mom was leaving her dad for a dying man – Eddie Taylor.  And that her dad was actually gay.

What?

That much was revealed in the span of this novel which had moments of epiphany that tugged at my heartstrings, despite the loathing I felt for Jo Russell at certain points where she was behaving less than half her age. How thoughtless and selfish a woman past her 30s can be really got on my nerves.

Dean, however, made a huge impression with his touch of sensitivity. His genuine care and concern filled up the void left blank by absent members of his family. He was the true hero of the book, taking baby steps in placing trust upon people and learning to commit like nobody in his life had ever shown his before.

The part where he was beginning to fall in love with Jo got a bit unrealistic and unconvincing, though. It was clear that girls were throwing themselves at his feet – cleavage, cellphone numbers and all – yet Jo was all he had on his mind after a mere 10 hours in the air. And Jo was being such a selfish, self-obsessed and indulged woman. Perhaps the oxygen up there is insufficient indeed.

However towards the end I grew to love Jo Russell. There was a reason behind her first-hand account while everyone else’s stories were written by the third-person. Here’s where the spoiler comes: Dean and Jo doesn’t end up together. Jo marries somebody else, and the little epilogue is simultaneously the saddest and the most heart-warming bit in the entire novel. The moment we’ve all been holding our breaths for – Dean and Jo were each other’s love of their lives but for reasons only explained in the book (ask me personally cos I don’t wish to spoil the book for you) they don’t end up together, ever.

Amidst the interweaving tales of marriage, relationships and families – broken or not – lies the keen reminder that nobody is perfect. Perfection should not be expected of anybody. And that forgiveness, big or small, is the hardest yet most essential part of any human relationship.
This is one piece of thoughtful contemporary literature that I would recommend to lovers of Jodi Picoult or even Jill Mansell and Kristin Hannah.

If ‘The State We’re in’ were to be made a movie…
Joanna Russell: Isla Fisher (Bring back the Shopaholic, please!)
Opening Ceremony And 'The Great Gatsby' Premiere - The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival

Dean Taylor: Hugh Dancy
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Eddie Taylor: Sean Bean
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Clara Russell: Christie Brinkley
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xoxo Viktoria Jean

Book Review: I Heart New York

Whenever I’m done with a grueling day at work, a piece of light, fun chick-lit (or the likes of it) brings back the cheer in me. Lindsey Kelk’s humour is not at Sophie Kinsella’s, but rather, in a homelier manner her characters are likeable, relatable and slapstick funny. I couldn’t help liking Angela Clark. She is neither stupid nor ditzy. And the ballsy take-no-shit in her makes me want to follow the rest of her adventures to Paris and Las Vegas. FYI I’ve also ordered the rest of the I Heart series!
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Angela Clark finds respite in New York after finding her fiance in the backseat semi-naked with another woman, at her best friend’s wedding. Worst thing is…EVERYONE knows about it but her. She traipses off to a new continent with nothing but 2 pairs of underwear and suitcase full of mismatched clothes. There’s nothing an overhaul can’t do, right?

This was an easy book to read. At the heart of the novel, a girl just needs time off to discover what she really wants in life. I would have totally done the same thing, to leave everything behind and start afresh in a new place. She makes a new best friend from the hotel concierge desk – Jenny – who takes her on a whirlwind ride in the new city, and as she takes on a bright revamped outlook on life, she draws people with her new vibrant personality, and men flock to her side. What a laugh, when she has to keep a blog detailing all the juicy secrets of her life and both her dates find out about it.

Getting to know the cast in I Heart is much like meeting a new set of friends whose lives appear totally typical but whom are in fact as screwed up as the rest of us. Reading I Heart New York was like cruising down the Big Apple for the first time: walking down Saks at Fifth Avenue, ogling at Macy’s and Bloomingdales, fighting vertigo on the Empire State Building. New York’s magic comes alive amidst frenzied dates to band gigs, late nights in Manhattan and detours to Boston. I must say, I’m definitely awaiting the arrival of the rest of the installments in the series!

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release: September 7th 2010
Genre: Chick-Lit, Fiction, Popular Culture, Romance, Big Apple
My Rating: 6 / 10
Recommended for: Travelers, summer reads, light reads

If I HEART was ever to be made a movie, I would cast:
ANGELA CLARK: Alicia Silverstone
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ALEX REID (the rockstar): Nicholas Hoult
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TYLER (the perfectly dreamy handsome & rich businessman): Kevin Zegers
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JENNY LOPEZ (the best friend!): Cheryl Cole
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SYNOPSIS:

Angela Clark is in love—with the most fabulous city in the world!

When Angela catches her boyfriend with another woman at her best friend’s wedding, she’s heartbroken and desperate to run away. With little more than a crumpled bridesmaid dress, a pair of Louboutins, and her passport in hand, Angela decides to jump on a plane for . . . NYC!

Settling into a cute hotel and quickly bonding with benevolent concierge Jenny—a chatterbox Oprah wannabe with room for a new best friend—Angela heads out for a New York makeover, some serious retail therapy, and a whirlwind tour of the city. Before she knows it, she’s dating two sexy guys and blogging about her Big Apple escapades for a real fashion magazine. But while it’s one thing telling readers about your romantic dilemmas, it’s another working them out for yourself. Angela has fallen head over heels for the city that never sleeps, but does she heart New York more than home?

(Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella, get ready for the summer debut of the year…
When you’re running away from a broken heart, there’s only one place to go…
Adjusting tiaras at the foot of the aisle, Angela and her best friend prepare for the wedding of the year. But events don’t go as planned. And when a girl is in possession of a crumpled bridesmaid dress – and can’t go home – New York (for the very first time) seems like an excellent idea.
Angela’s new friend Jenny Lopez gives Angela a whirlwind tour of the city that never sleeps, and a makeover. Who hasn’t dreamed of starting afresh with a sassy New York wardrobe, a new haircut and a trip to the make-up counter?
Before she knows it, the new Angela is getting over her broken heart by having dinner with two different boys. And, best of all, she gets to write about it in her fabulous new blog. But it’s one thing telling readers all about your romantic dilemmas. It’s another trying to figure them out for yourself!
Warm, funny and unputdownable, I Heart New York is an unforgettable debut)

oo4 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

The kids today are gone away petitioning the dust
Just misfit melancholy dregs gone lost in the mall
Wanderers to nowhere at all

It was never in Max’s honest intentions to fall asleep with his head in Devynn’s lap. It was never in his expectations that she would stay to watch him fall asleep.

She knew not to probe, and merely studied the way his eyebrows knit into a frown that deepened in his troubled slumber. Her thumb traced the anxiety written all over his forehead, finally applying a little more pressure to ease the creases between frowning brows. That appeared to help, as Max was evidently falling into a more peaceful sleep, marked by a tiny snore…

Lithely, Devynn slipped out from under his weight, replacing herself with a soft pillow. When she had smoothed out Max’s dark brown hair, she pulled the duvet blankets over his sleeping frame. Quietly, she left him to his dreams.

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

“Don’t leave me!”

Max awoke in distress, gripping the blankets so hard his knuckles turned white. It took a full minute for him to remember where he was. The bedroom was dark but not pitch-black, and it was Devynn and not the servant-boy who had stayed by his side.

She too was gone, and he was tucked comfortably in bed. Max ran his fingers across his shoulders, feeling a phantom warmth that still lingered from Devynn’s presence.

Suddenly, a fear struck Max. His friends always vanished or were taken away, simply because they had been in touch with Max. He was afraid this fate awaited Devynn and his new friends. That Devynn would abruptly vanish like a servant-boy whose companionship had kept him sane during those long nights. His only friend had departed one day like a burst bubble, whose disappearance he missed from blinking his eyes.

He did not wish the same fate upon Devynn, or Sora, or Thierry.

He looked around for his room-mates but they had not returned.

Something else caught his attention.

The dining table was adorned with colourful plates, all laden with a selection of Korean cuisine – rolls and rolls of fat kimbap, beef stew, cold noodles, bean paste noodles, and kimchi pancakes, inducing an audible growl from the pits of his stomach. A note to him was written in a beautiful cursive hand.

You must be hungry after your sleep. Don’t skip any meals. I am known for my excellent culinary skills, so…count yourself lucky! – Devynn

It was like he had been dead to the world when she had prepared all these food. No clanging pots and pans were heard. After all, despite a brief nightmare, he just had one of the best sleeps in a long time.

His mouth watered as he sat down to savour the sumptuous spread. He made a mental note to ask for a recipe for her salmon sushi rolls. A trace of a smile tugged at Max’s lips when an image of Devynn arranging the sushi rolls on a plate popped into his mind.

The buzzer to the apartment door sounded.

“Package for Mr Max? Please sign over here.”

The bulk was loaded into the living quarters, a red ‘FRAGILE’ label intact on the rock-hard casing. Finally! — his beloved guitar was here, shipped from Korea on request. It was not smashed, after all.

Hastily shutting the door, he threw open the casing, and ran his fingers over the familiar rosewood and strings – the familiar scent soothed his anxieties.

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

 

Their den swarmed with movement, speech and activities. All of their members were in attendance. A heavy cloud of smoke hung in the air, filling every nook and cranny with the odor of filthy tobacco. Above them, busy streets of Tokyo were bustling with cars and traffic.

The clubhouse was their second home, where everyone gathered when nobody desired to go home. That happened often.

Hazily lit by a flickering lamp was a round table where they gambled. Each filled their usual spot, puffing away on weed and cheap cigarettes.

“That new guy– what’s his name again?—was such a dick. Did you see how the girls were all over him? Is that why you’ve been brooding the whole damn day?” Shiwon asked, giving Justin a light push on his shoulder.

“Shut the hell up, Shiwon.” Justin sat down on a chair and slunk further in his seat.

“Do you want us to teach him a lesson? Just say it.” Dong Hae cracked his knuckles and smirked.

“The girls were all ‘oh look at that hunk’. Bleargh. He looks a bit like Taguchi, don’t you think?” Shiwon laughed.

“Shut your mouth.” Taguchi banged a fist on the table. “Justin, just holler if you need back up.”

“Honestly, do you guys like violence that much?” Akanishi asked with a frown. He looked at Dong Hae, then at Shiwon and Taguchi.

“What’s the matter with you, Akanishi?” Shiwon challenged, his fists balled up in a combat stance.

“Enough.” Justin’s word brought silence.

Hee Chul, who had been curled up in his mid-afternoon nap, was awokened. Annoyed, he sat up and flipped his long hair. Running his tongue over his dry lips, Hee Chul said, “Simmer, Justin. You ruined my beauty sleep.” Hee Chul unfolded his legs, got up and sashayed towards Justin who was still in his seat, looking away from the group. Running his perfectly manicured fingers across Justin’s chest, Hee Chul gave a seductive moan and stared into Justin’s eyes. “Who angered my dear Justin?”

Justin pushed Hee Chul’s hands away. Hee Chul gave a seductive laugh. He cocked his head and looked at Justin. “You are one stubborn bitch, and I love you anyway.” Looking around the room, Hee Chul asked, “Since Justin won’t tell me, would any of me kindly give me an update?”

“It’s the new guy.” Dong Hae explained. “Someone’s been frowning the whole day and he won’t admit that the new douchebag is the real reason.”

“Lies. Why would a new guy get on his nerves? No one can out-fight our Justin.”

“This one can,” Justin mumbled.

“What did you say?” Akanishi leaned in to hear Justin, but caught nothing else.

Just then, Dong Hae’s cell phone rang. “Hello….speaking…….WHAT? Holy shit. Right now?” He hang up abruptly.

“Guys, it’s Daiisun. The previous dealer. Our loot was seized. The people from Che-mun Corporation is on their way.”

Everyone stood up, vulgarities flying in all directions.

“Listen up! We have to leave right now.” Justin was in control.

“Where to?”

“Get to Daiisun. We have to keep to our promise.”

And they were off.

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

It was 6 months ago. The deal was made within the hour.

The 7 boys -Justin, Taguchi, Akanishi, Dong Hae, Chris, Shiwon and Hee Chul – accepted Daiisun’s offer to be runners. They would have to back Daiisun in every deal. They knew the market like the back of their hands, and Daiisun could use a whole bunch of street-smart high-school thugs.

On paper, Daiisun was an international trade union, working under pseudo licenses from the local government. In truth, they were an underground organisation amassing cash from trafficking humans and transacting drugs and all other types of illegal or fake goods. Their activities centered around South Korea and Japan as well as the rest of Asia.

The terms of the contract were listed when Daiisun bought their loyalties for 10 million dollars.

1. They were to abide by the leader and Daiisun’s words under all circumstances.
2. Betrayal would result in immediate death.

They became slaves to money in the underworld.

Daiisun’s biggest rival was Che-mun Corporation, which dealt in Korea, Japan and China, and whose leader led with an iron fist.  Often, both sides have come to blows over clashes in trade.

With the boys’ help, Daiisun had come to an agreement with Che-mun over the use of trade space in the local region. Daiisun would have clients that will not overlap with Che-mun’s clients, such that both corporations would work hand in hand in the market and no boundaries were crossed.

6 months later, all these right would come crashing down.
***

In a dark alley linking Daiisun’s warehouse to the Daiisun main building, tall men in trenchcoats and dark glasses lined the place. Tension hung in the air.

Daiisun’s head honcho stood face to face with Che-mun’s. Both were tall enough to see eye-to-eye, unwavering in their poised stance.Unspoken fury threatened to boil over.

“It seems like your men stepped out of line first, secretly made deals with our biggest client, having sold 200 pounds.” Daiisun spoke.

“My men did nothing of the sort. In fact, your men killed mine in order to get a deal that was rightfully ours. Your men are at my mercy.”

“Let them go this instant. My men would never jeopardise this agreement. You are using this excuse to break off our agreement, so you can raid our warehouse.”

Anger flashed in Che-mun’s eyes. He took a step closer to Daiisun.

Instantly, Daiisun was backed up by his members straightening up in their bearings, as if to warn Che-mun against any rash actions.

“Why don’t you get those boys who initiated this deal to get here right now?” Che-mun challenged. “Those boys presumably made a promise to safeguard this promise.”

“We did.” Justin announced as he stepped into the alley amidst the heightened tension.

Behind him, the other 6 boys assembled.

“You hired…kids? Boys, go home to your mummies. Curfew’s over,” he chuckled, looking over his shoulders at Justin.

Several men sniggered as they watched the young boys doubtfully.

“What are you laughing at?” Dong Hae grimaced and stepped forward brazenly.

Justin placed a hand on Dong Hae’s arm.

Looking straight at Daiisun, then at Che-mun, he said, “We’ve kept our promise. We hurt no men, nor did we break any agreement.”

“Then where are the goods? Did they fall into the sea? You boys were last seen trading.” Daiisun boomed.

“We did as told. Che-mun himself was present, we saw you getting into the limo outside the ferry terminal. It was a tri-party trade. The other party acknowledged the loot.” Justin rocked back on his heels in disbelief. The tension in the air was rising rapidly. He heard a few knuckles cracking. It was a multi-million dollar deal. Tempers were bound to be a lot more short-fused.

Che-mun laughed and turned to face Justin. “Is this all you can do? Daiisun was too stupid to trust you boys, but I am not. Perhaps you looted them all to make a bit more…extra cash. Who else is in this game? Who else bought you?” These further insinuations seemed to produce a veil of doubt on Daiisun’s already cynical expression.

He sniggered, turned back to look at Daiisun. “The deal…is off.”

Instantly, an uproar rose in the dark alley. It was of bodies slamming into walls, fists smashing and breaking jaws, and screams of fury and agony blended into one. Daiisun and Che-mun were each surrounded by bodyguards.

“Che-mun, I’m going to kill him!” Dong Hae exclaimed. With clenched fists, Dong Hae charged forward angrily.

“Wait no! You will be killed, Dong Hae!” Akanishi exclaimed and reached out to grab him, but only grabbed at air. Justin followed after Dong Hae who had managed to snag a knife from a dead Daiisun member.

Hee Chul was calmly tying his hair with a rubber band, while the rest of the boys, too, charged forward to help their leader.

A man in black threw a punch in Justin’s face. He dodged, grabbed the man’s arm, and swiftly threw him over his shoulders in a perfect karate move. Another attempted to stab Justin’s back, but Dong Hae saw it and crashed into the man with all his might before he could reach Justin.

Behind them, Akanishi and Taguchi were fighting off Che-mun’s men.

Justin reached the human barricade around Che-mun faster than any of his friends. With two flying kicks, he threw off 2 bodyguards in his path, but they were quickly replaced by more. There were so many, all armed, with pistols gleaming in their gloved hands. Any bullets fired from these weapons could not be traced back to any sources. Che-mun was watching all these in amusement, thinking he was safe and sound within his human barricade.

All 7 boys were now charging towards Che-mun, breaking down the barricade as swiftly as they could. Groans of agony and exertion could be heard all around.

Shiwon fell to the floor as a hard punch threw him off balance.

“You alright?” Taguchi reached for Shiwon’s arms and got him back to his feet.

“Never felt better.” A thin stream of blood was running down his chin. Shiwon swiped his bleeding lips with his bare hands.

The men in black were falling in large numbers, as some were running away from the scene, and others fell defeated. The human barricade was thinning. However, the boys were utterly drained, tired out from fighting.

Swaying, Akanishi threw a punch in a man’s direction but missed. Someone from the back kicked him and he fell to the floor, twisting his ankle. He let out a loud cry.

“Akanishi!” Chris lost focus as he saw his comrade fall. He did not notice that there was someone in black behind them. A sharp blow slammed into the base of his neck.

It was now 5 against God knows how many more.

A gleam of sharp and shiny knife flashed somewhere in the tangle of flaying arms and legs. Hee Chul saw it first. Then Shiwon noticed it too.

Hee Chul whipped out his handy hair brush from his pockets and charged for the man. Leaping into the air, Hee Chl landed on the man’s back and began to ravage the man’s face with his hairbrush.

“You wanna play with weapons, two can play the game!”

Hee Chul whipped out a hairbrush, brandishing it as his weapon. Justin had to control his laughter, when suddenly, he felt a sharp stab on his left side. Pain shot through his insides and rapidly spread to his entire body. He doubled over in pain.

“Justin!” Shiwon was being pressed down by another man, but he had seen the whole thing. The guy with the knife who was being attacked by Hee Chul had slid the knife over to another man. His movements were too quick for Shiwon to give any warnings.

With fury, Hee Chul grabbed the man’s hair and smashed his face against the concrete floor. Blood spurted from a deep gash in his forehead, and pooled around his now-limp body.

The knife protruded from Justin’s left side as he struggled to stay up. Blood was gushing from the gaping wound with every small move he made, and Justin could feel his skin go cold.

Taguchi had just flung a man against a wall and rushed over to Justin. “Let us do the job!” But Justin knew that they needed him. Waving his hands in dismissal, Justin stood up tall and bit his lips. He was strong, and stubborn, he would not back down while he was still able to fight.

Shiwon was getting on his feet. He limped towards Justin.

“We…we must not stop.” Despite his quivering thighs and greying lips, Justin gave a weak smile and encouraged his friends.

Just then, the barricade fell open with Hee Chul’s flying kick, taking down 3 men effortlessly.

Seeing that he was the nearest to Che-mun, Justin clenched his fists and charged, his knuckles connecting with the crook of the corporation leader’s nose with such blinding force.

Che-mun crashed to the floor.

And so was Justin, as he fell atop Che-mun, and rolled onto the floor, unconscious.

One by one Che-mun’s men fled, not only because their leader was down, but also they had heard the siren of police cars in the distant.

It was only when every one of the men in black was gone that the boys realised the siren came from Hee Chul’s mobile phone. But no one wasted any time complimenting his wit, as they rushed to Justin. By then, Chris was conscious again and Akanishi was hopping on one leg.

“Justin!” Loud cries rang through the dark alley. Not even Hee Chul’s slap could get their leader to open his eyes.

 

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

 

That face. Justin thought in that split second when he had knocked the dark glasses off Che-mun’s face. Where have I seen him before?

It was only when Justin fell to the floor that the memories that had long pervaded him returned.

 

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

 

Max was fidgety and uncomfortable as he fingered his red star pendant. Something in his heart told him that things were not right. Something was happening right at this moment.

As Max stood up from the table, he knocked over a glass of water. The glass cup rolled off the table and fell to the floor with a loud smashing crash.

Max stared at the fragments that now lay on the floor and thought to himself: Now they can never be patched up again. No matter what I do, these will always remain as broken pieces.

He sat back down, staring limply into blank space.

~*~*~*~

 

max4

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

oo3 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

In so many ways we live to follow the sun
In so many ways we exalt and fail as one
In so many ways we want so bad to be done

“Now be a good boy, Max, hold on to this white bag. Wait at that junction for a man in a black trenchcoat. You must see a scar on his chin before you pass this to him, are you clear?”

Only one end-goal persisted in 6-year-old Max’s mind: Father promised to take him to the amusement park if he obeyed and played by the rules. As if his life depended on it, he hugged the heavy package as tightly as he could.

“This is an important task. Daddy is counting on you. Don’t let me down, you hear?”

“Yes, Daddy.” Max grinned.

“Atta boy. “ Father ruffled his hair.

Evening descended, and after they had made their seventh round on the outskirts of the public garden, an image of the junction had been etched in his mind.

“Now. Get out there, Max.”

Father’s assistant unlocked the door, and Max was nudged from his seat. He forced his jittery body to obey, even as his little palms started to sweat.

“Go. Do what you’ve been told. Man in black trenchcoat. Chin scar. Remember.”

Still holding on to the bag, Max walked to an inconspicuous spot at the junction, hidden by towering trees and unkempt bushes, and waited.

An hour passed. The heavy bag kept slipping through his tired arms but Max held on.

Another hour passed. His arms shivered from the strain, and he was both hot and cold all over from nerves and the summer heat. Father’s car was no longer in sight as the sky was dark by now, but occasionally, he knew that Father’s assistant would flash the headlights to signal that they were there. Street lamps were of little help. He narrowed his eyes in scrutiny of every single passing person. Finally, when he could no longer feel his arms, he bent down and let the package slip out of his hands.

Just then, the supposed man in the long black trenchcoat appeared. He was crossing the junction when he saw Max, then proceeded to walk in Max’s direction. Max squatted over the package, watched as the man hesitated, then opened up his strides towards Max.

When he was close enough, Max caught a flash of his face. Indeed, a prominent white scar covered a large part of his chin.

Convinced that this was the man Father had instructed him to pass the package to, Max stood up and pointed to the white package. He looked at Max, then to the package, and nodded. Picking up the package, he turned to leave.

 

Satisfied, Max ran back to the black sedan and climbed back onto the comfortable leather seats.

Immediately after he closed the doors of the car, Max was knocked over by a force so large and brutal that he was slammed headfirst against the car door and out of his seat, finally settling into a heap onto the carpeted floors of the vehicle.

“Why did you put the damn thing down?” Father’s voice boomed.

Max let out a strangled cry as pain shot through his whole body. His mouth was beginning to fill with blood from the impact of the slap. His cheeks were stinging with acute pain. He thought his arm might be twisted.

“ANSWER ME!”

“I…I…I am sorry father. It was so heavy…”

“I did not ask you to put that damn thing down. What if someone else had taken it away from you? How are you going to answer to me?”

“I am sorry, it was really heavy…”

“I don’t give a damn whether it is heavy or not!” Father grabbed Max by his collar and pulled him back up onto the seat. “We’re going home now. And you, young man, are going to spend the night in the closet room.”

“I’m sorry! Please, not there!” Fear overwhelmed the young boy. He almost choked on his own tears which now ran freely down his swollen cheeks.

“Yes the dark and damp closet room. And no dinner. For heaven’s sake stop crying! Start the car, Jung.”

“Master, should we get some medicine for Young Master? He is bleeding badly.”

“JUST START THE DAMN CAR, JUNG!”

The engine roared to life, and navigated its way through the alley, and onto the winding roads of Seoul.

Wet from blood and tears, Max continued sobbing uncontrollably, his dreams of a happy outing with Father and Mother dashed, replaced by the nightmarish thoughts of sleeping in the dark closet that night.

Back home, Father grabbed Max, pulled him out of the car and dragged him down to the servant’s quarters. The servants’ quarters were rooms that housed the maids, chaffeurs and housekeepers. Dark, filthy, small rooms with a musky smell mixed with the stench of human blood and sweat.

 

A closet sat on the far end of the corridor. With a heave, he was thrown into the closet. By then, Max was too tired to struggle anymore. He listened as the door closed and the lock fastened, meaning that he would have to spend the night alone in this dark closet room with only a thin stream of light entering through a gap in the latch of the door. Curling up his small battered body, Max hugged his knees to himself, sobbing. His only companion was the dark that surrounded him. His stomach growled with hunger, and he shook with fatigue, but was unable to fall asleep. He could hear the bustle of activity outside the closet, where the servant’s families were getting ready for bed.

Just then, through a gap in the latch, something fell into his lap. It was a torch light, and a note attached.

‘Don’t be afraid. I am here for you. Let my light shine in the darkest corners.’

Something else fell in. It was a tiny cupcake which Max immediately devoured hungrily. To express his gratitude, Max knocked on the door twice. In return, he got two knocks back.

Another littl cupcake was passed through the gap.

Suddenly, there was total darkness as the servants turned off the lights for bedtime. Max screamed and began to cry once again.

“Hush! Do not cry. Turn on the torchlight I passed to you!” A little boy’s voice instructed him from outside of the closet.

Light instantly filled up the closet.

“Do not be afraid, I will stay with you tonight.” Max heard a soft click, and he knew that the other boy on the other side of the door had his own torchlight too.

“Are you afraid of the dark too?” Max asked.

“Not really. The dark is my best friend. Do you have any friends?”

“From elementary school. Yes. I like my friends. Do you have friends other than the dark?”

“No. I don’t go to school.”

“What do you do then?”

“I help out here. I stay in the basement. I do things like peeling potatoes and weeding the garden. Hauling the woodstock to keep the fireplace lit You live upstairs don’t you? The family that is taken care of by the families that live in the basement.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw you getting thrown in by your father, our employer. It wasn’t a pretty sight.”

“I know. I am Max, what is your name?”

“You can call me ‘hyung’ since I am older than you.”

“What is your real name? Can you tell me? Because you are a very marvellous friend.”

“I don’t have a name.”

“My name was given to me by my parents. Where are your parents, hyung?”

“I live with my mother. I don’t have a father. Do you want more cupcakes?”

“Yes please! Where is your father? Everyone should have a father by default.”

“I guess he is dead. My mother does not like me to speak of him.” The little boy handed another piece of his cupcakes to Max through the gap.

“Thank you. What time is it, hyung?”

“It is 11 in the night. I can hear your father brewing his decaf in the kitchen above us. He usually does this before he sleeps, while reading the papers.”

“You sure do know my father better than I do!”

“My mother always tells me about Master. Sometimes, she would bring me to the window where we can see Master’s bedroom.” The boy fell silent for a long time. Panic rose up like bile in Max’s throat.

 

“Please keep talking! It’s too quiet in here.”

 

“It’s always too quiet here,” the boy replied, but complied, “because the parties, dinners and summer galas are always held upstairs isn’t it? Mother tells me everything about the world upstairs – the silk shirt that Master wore for Charity Ball and Portugese egg tarts that he ate for brunch yesterday. She knows the room so well, I guess it’s because it’s her responsibility to tidy up. Our Master would be undressing while pulling the curtains shut, and Mother would gaze until the curtains are fully drawn. And sometimes, when Master’s main servant girl is sick, Mother always volunteers to clear up Master’s room and she would take me along. She touches everything on Master’s drawers and sheets. I wonder why.”

 

Max nodded, though he couldn’t understand why this was being told to him. He took it lightly, like a bedtime story, so he curled up even tighter into a ball.

“Is your mother beautiful?” He asked.

“She’s gorgeous. Like a blossoming flower on a winter night.”

“Wow, that’s a beautiful way of describing her.”

“Is your mother beautiful as well?”

“Her beauty is indescribable. Except it is masked behind a constant fear of my father.” A fear that Max knew like the back of his hand.

The sky was dotted with pretty stars and cottoncandy clouds carely covered them like a thin veil. Soon, both young boys fell asleep in the dark, each with a smile on his face.


***

When Max awoke the nest morning to the sound of the lock unfastening, he scrambled to his feet. The torchlight was still clenched in his hands, as he burst through the door, looking left and right for his lovely friend.

But he could not be found. The caretaker picked Max up.

“Where is the boy sleeping outside last night?”

“What boy?”

“The boy? Cupcakes? Something about his mom…” a nagging thought at the back of Max’s head told him that it was best not to mention the conversation that had gone on late into the night.

Servants do not and must not make friends with their masters.

changmin

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

Book Review: Happily Ever After

“Everyone’s allowed to be in love with the wrong person at some point. In fact, it’s a mistake not to be.”
― Harriet EvansHappily Ever After

Much like hot chocolate on a rainy Sunday afternoon — which is what the coverpage conjures as an afterthought — was exactly how the book felt in my hands. This is my first Harriet Evans novel, snatched up on a whim, and as I read it from cover to cover it gave me a couple of laughs and a few sighs, as I am  taken on a ten-year roller coaster ride that constituted Eleanor Bee’s dramatic life. Very much delighted by the wit displayed by Evans’ mouthpiece (Eleanor Bee) in times of turmoil and change, though bits of the novel did infuriate me where sexual morals were concerned, but hey this is a very intimate, very discerning piece of chick-lit that gave very real insights to the modern world.

Eleanor Bee definitely isn’t the uptight middle-class Londoner where personal problems were concerned, and that made me love her more. Who wouldn’t love a semi-psychotic, seasonal alcoholic, Big Apple convert?

Love how secrets of the lucrative and mysterious publishing world were exposed in bite-sized juicy bits, which left me wanting to know more about the actual publishing society.
Thank you, Harriet Evans, for this romp of a read!

hea

Publisher: Gallery Books
Release: June 5th, 2012
Genre: Chick-Lit, Fiction, Love, Romance, Change
My Rating: 7.5 / 10
Recommended for: Chick-lit lovers, summer reads, weekend reads, beach reads

If Happily Ever After was ever to be made a movie, I would cast:

ELLE BEE: Kristin Cavalleri
Kristin-Cavalleri-026a

RORY (the boss): Mark Wahlberg
mark-wahlberg-29

TOM: Mark Salling
a-eye-candy-mark-salling-3