Book Review: When I’m with Jesus

When I’m With Jesus by Kimberly Rae

When I’m with Jesus

This is such a beautiful book. Written by a mother, fearing that she may not be there to watch her children grow up due to her multiple health conditions. She wanted to leave behind a message for them to let them know how much she would still loved them even when she is gone. She wanted to make sure that they knew she would be all right when she is with Jesus in Heaven to allow them to heal. Many children often wonder about Heaven, especially when someone they love goes there. They are often afraid to ask other grieving adults about it or talk to them about how they are feeling. They need reassurance that those feelings and questions are normal. This book helps children see that a loved one’s transition to Heaven is a joyful thing and it reminds and comforts children to know that they have not been forgotten and are still loved by the ones they have lost, as well as our Father in Heaven. It uses this verse from Revelation (21:4) as a reminder of what eternity with God in Heaven will be like: “There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain.”⁠

Reading this book brought tears to my eyes. It reminds us that God knows all about us, He knew us before we were born, how long we will live, our fears, our sufferings, our pain, our deepest darkest thoughts and secrets, even how many hairs we have on our head! He loves us, just as we are, just as He had made us. But sometimes, when the time comes, He will want us to leave this Earth and be with Him in Heaven. Sometimes he’ll take away someone we love to Heaven even when we want them to stay. Though it sounds scary, it is actually a wonderful blessing and a gift from God! Because, although we have pain, suffering and death on Earth, we will only have joy, peace and life in Heaven – eternal life with God, Jesus, all the angels and those we have lost before! It’s such a beautiful story that teaches us about life after death and how wonderful it is to be adopted into God’s family for eternity!⁠

Check it out on Amazon! https://amzn.to/36hXzCf

Book Review: Monster in the Air

Monster in the Air by Donia Youssef

Monster in the Air


This is a sweet story about our current pandemic. It looks at the positive side of being in lockdown and the different things we can do to spend time at home with our families. It encourages kids to stay positive even in uncertain times. I also enjoyed the part about the various farm animals that get loose and start roaming around town, making the story entertaining and fun at the same time as you read to find out what happens.⁠
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After almost one year since the pandemic broke out, there has been so many changes, unexpected turn of events and a lot of ups and downs. It’s hard to find the positive side of things when we continually see the worsening state of the world. However, we can’t lose hope and focus on the negatives. After some reflection, I realised that so much good has come about. I managed to make new friends and connections from all over the world in just a few months. The use of technology and social media allowed us to stay connected even though we are separated by oceans. Being in lockdown has given us some much-needed family time as well as time to discover new hobbies, interests and passions. All the new changes and challenges created new opportunities in every industry, and people are finding more ways to improve their businesses and the way they operate. Moving teaching online has been one of the biggest challenges for many teachers and students, but it has vastly improved the way we present and absorb information. We don’t know how long this will last, but I believe that it will only make us stronger and more determined to not give up, and keep making things better for the future.⁠
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Check it out on Amazon! https://amzn.to/3mhRsU1

Book Review: I’m Not Afraid!

I’m Not AFRAID! by Sarah Beliza Tucker
Ages: 4-9⁠

I’m Not Afraid!


Harry’s first sleepover is going GREAT until Ringo, Ricky, and Curly start telling scary stories!⁠
Harry’s imagination runs wild, and he wants to go home … but he doesn’t want to miss out on the sleepover! What will he do?⁠
‘I’m Not Afraid!’ is a book that shows children it’s okay to be afraid, but that real courage is being afraid and facing those fears head-on.⁠


This is another great book from the Harry and Friends series about how to overcome fear. It teaches a very practical strategy to stop our overactive imagination from taking over our minds and making us scared about something that isn’t real. I like that it teaches fear can also protect us from danger, but it is when fear is ‘false expectations appearing real’ that it is something we need to overcome and conquer. It’s a great lesson to teach kids and help them overcome fears.⁠
Harry is such an adorable character and this new addition to the series is a must-have! Check out the other books in the Adventures of Harry & Friends series too! You won’t regret it! This is a great series to add to your school or home library!⁠
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Check it out on Amazon!⁠ https://amzn.to/3lHCJlb

Author’s Website:

Book Review: An Only Child’s Diary

An Only Child’s Diary by Audrey Lavigne⁠
Ages: 8-13⁠

An Only Child’s Diary


This is a lovely book written as a diary from an eleven year old girl’s perspective. She shares about her daily life from the happy and exciting moments to her struggles and uncertainties. Her feelings and thoughts are expressed in detail and readers can relate easily to what Alyssa is going through as she is adapting to a new school and environment. ⁠
Not only is Alyssa an only child, she is also a child of divorce. However, she has a great relationship with her mum’s partner Marcel. I like how the story is set in Seychelles and various aspects of the country’s culture are also included. The illustrations are quite unique too, pictures that Alyssa draws in her diary with captions which add a nice touch to make it feel like a real girl’s diary. The story also discusses bullying, how to be a kind and supportive friend, taking risks and overcoming challenges. Life as an only child isn’t always easy sometimes, and I love that Alyssa imagines a sister to write to and keeps it as a secret. It’s a very creative way to express one’s feelings and emotions and shows other kids who are an only child feel less alone.⁠
This is the first book in An Only Child’s Diary series and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!⁠
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Check it out on Amazon! https://amzn.to/3nnufjs

https://www.instagram.com/audreylavigne.author/

Book Review: Big H and Little h Dog

Big H and Little h Dog by Victoria Smith
Ages: 3-8⁠

Big H and Little h Dog


This is a heartwarming children’s story, based on the real life endeavours of a father to save his son from the cruel muscle wasting disease ‘Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy’.⁠
The story provides a wonderful opportunity to spark conversations around disability/accessibility/inclusiveness, and that rather than being something to be dreaded, a wheelchair can open up a world of opportunity and adventure for children with a disability.⁠


Why I like this book: ⁠
This is such a great book about a little dog Little h with a disability and how he struggles with daily life and fitting in. Big H, his owner, takes great care of Little h Dog and starts travelling all around the world to find someone who could help him. It is such a sweet and heartwarming story. I love the illustrations and the way the text is laid out so creatively with different fonts, colours and sizes and even forming a ring! It makes the book so much fun to read! Kids would definitely enjoy this book and it has a great message too. It teaches readers to never give up and at the same time to be inclusive of others no matter their differences. It’s a great lesson in overcoming adversity. Highly recommend!⁠

Check it out on Amazon! https://amzn.to/3pBwxNI

https://books2read.com/ap/RWjLKe/Victoria-Smith

What I Learned about Writing from “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami

 


When I picked up this book, I was expecting something like a memoir or a collection of essays on running. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was so much more than that, and I found myself highlighting numerous passages that gave me a fresh perspective on life and writing (as well as running). I read the book in three days, though I could have easily finished in one if I didn’t have other stuff going on. I also wanted to reflect on some of the great lessons I’d learned from it and apply them in my own life and writing habits.

In case you don’t know, Haruki Murakami started running the same year he decided to sell his jazz bar and devote himself to writing — he was thirty-three. For me, reading this book now at thirty-three, gave me motivation and encouragement, and it was like a sign that I, too, should start pursuing new goals. As Murakami says, “That age may be a kind of crossroads in life.”


In no particular order, here are some lessons on writing from the running novelist:

“I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly.”

Murakami explains that, while he is aiming to increase the distance he runs, speed is less of an issue, as long as he can run a certain distance. If he increases the pace, he shortens the amount of time he runs, but he lets that exhilaration he feels at the end carry over to the next day. It is the same thing that applies to writing a novel. This allows you to keep up with the rhythm and set the pace. This is especially important for long-term projects. You don’t want to burn out too quickly in the beginning doing too much, and not have anything left to continue and carry you to the finish line.

So, does it work? I’ve actually been trying to finish my first draft of a children’s book for the last two weeks. It is under 10k words, so I knew I could easily finish it in a week or two. But when I was at 3,000 words, I lost momentum and ran out of ideas. I took a few days off and had to let my brain rest. I had been writing for two nights straight, way past my bedtime, and I would often end up staring at my screen, rereading everything from start to finish (several times), even though I had nothing left to add. It was counterproductive and it wasted a lot of hours when I could have gotten a good night’s sleep. After I read this, I decided to try it out. I had a few ideas pop into my head and started writing again. I was quite sure I could have gotten more than 1,000 words on the page, but I stopped at around 700 words, leaving a note on where I wanted to continue the next day. Sure enough, when I got up the next day, the words just poured right out and I didn’t require a lot of time to get them all down. I had spent the previous night thinking about those ideas and how I wanted to go about writing them. Instead of forcing myself to write everything down that night, just going over ideas and sentences in my head, and even saying them out loud, helped me to organise my thoughts and ideas.

Stopping where you feel you can write more not only helps you set a pace for your writing, it also allows you to pause and gather your thoughts and ideas, so that when you return to it the next day, you can jump right in without much planning or thinking. I did this for three days and got my first draft done at just over 7,000 words. I think I’m going to continue using this method for editing, re-writing and maybe even blogposts as well. It may take a bit longer than usual, but you end up with better quality writing and new insights and perspectives you otherwise may not have in just one sitting.


On deciding to become a novelist

I gained a whole new perspective on writing when I read about how Murakami initially started writing. He describes his sudden desire to write a novel while watching a baseball game, and it was the moment the crack of the bat meeting the ball which echoed through the stadium that the thought came over him. He never had any ambitions to be a novelist. He didn’t even have a concrete idea of what he wanted to write about, but he felt that if he just started to write, he could come up with something. He went out and bought manuscript paper and a fountain pen and started writing until he had a 200-page manuscript — all handwritten. He didn’t even know what to do with the finished novel and simply sent it to a literary magazine to be considered for a new-writers prize. The most shocking part was that he didn’t make a copy before shipping it off! He was perfectly fine with the possibility that it may not get selected and might just vanish forever, and was simply content with having finished it than whether anyone would actually read his work.

I don’t know if many writers (new or seasoned) would ever do what Murakami had done, but that was in 1978, before the Internet took over the world and people didn’t rely on social media to communicate with people. Everyone of us can now easily send a 140 character Tweet to the rest of the world within seconds and get feedback just as quickly. Murakami had to wait months to find out whether his novel, which he spent long hours crafting, was even read by anyone. When he finally heard back from them, he had already completely forgotten he’d entered the competition in the first place. His novel won the prize and was eventually published that summer. Before he could get his head around what was happening, he was labeled as a new, up-and-coming writer.

So, what can we learn from his experience? We now live in a time where it is much easier to get published, but we often get distracted by what comes after your book is published — fame, recognition, status, etc. Murakami started writing with no expectations or ambitions of doing it professionally or turning it into his career; he simply started writing because he had a desire to write. He didn’t tell anyone or Tweet about it while he was writing, and everyone who knew him had no idea he had done it until after the fact. He was self-motivated and worked from start to finish — he was pleased with himself just because he was able to do it. I also had a desire to write something for a few years, but I was often held back due to a fear of not being good at it, being rejected, or being judged for it. I started numerous stories that never made it to the end. I gave up when things got tough and I started to doubt myself. I was worried about being a bad writer — before I had even completed a first draft. Murakami did not even think about what he would do with his novel after he had finished it. This mindset was what pushed him to the finish line. His mind was focused on just getting it done. Everything else that might come afterwards never even crossed his mind. The fact that he didn’t make a copy impressed me the most because he didn’t need any proof of his work, he didn’t need to read it again and again. He sent it to one competition without a backup plan, then he forgot about it and went on with his life and started writing other stories. He plunged into writing without expectations. I was not even halfway with my first draft and had given up when I started reading this book, and after reading this particular part, I got right back into it— forgetting about all the stuff that might come afterwards — just get it done. Done is better than perfect. You don’t need to be naturally talented to start writing either. Write because you want to write.


On setting priorities

Murakami, after deciding to become a novelist, started to change his daily routine so that he could focus on writing. He started to get up before 5 a.m. and went to bed before 10 p.m. He is a morning person and that is the time he can focus and work. After working in the morning, he has the rest of the day free to do other things that don’t take much concentration and he has been able to work efficiently for more than two decades. This lifestyle means he doesn’t have much of a nightlife and have had to turn down a lot of invitations. This is his way of prioritising how he wants to divide his time and energy so that he can focus on writing. Murakami worked out when he could work most efficiently and stay focused, and he rearranged his priorities and changed his lifestyle to do it.

This is definitely a challenge for me, as I have never been a morning person. I sleep late and wake up late. Even if I wake up early, I just stay in bed until I feel like getting up. This wasn’t an option for me when I was still teaching in primary school, obviously, but I fell back into this pattern soon after I left my teaching job and started freelancing. I would often wake up still fatigued, barely staying awake, extremely unfocused throughout the day. Soon after breakfast, lunchtime came around, though I would sometimes push it back until 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. So, I really only get about two to three hours of work done. Then, dinner time rolls around, and after dinner, I finally feel like I can work without distractions, so I stay up way past midnight, lying awake until dawn, and falling asleep when I should be up again. It is an incredibly unhealthy way to live, especially for freelancers. Although you don’t have set working hours, you still need a daily routine so that you have a work-life balance. I ended up sitting in front of my laptop from 11 a.m. to the wee hours of the night, and finding that I really only did about four hours of real work while the rest of the time was disrupted by mealtimes, social media, daydreaming, Netflix or other family interruptions. Wouldn’t two or three hours of focused, uninterrupted work in the early morning be better than twelve plus hours of scattered brain activity throughout the day? I have yet to really put this into practice, though. I just started setting my alarm for 7:00 a.m., which is a big improvement from getting up after 9:00 a.m. Let’s hope I can push it even earlier and begin a new morning routine. Even if I don’t end up working in the morning, I can at least get some much-needed exercise done so I can free up the rest of the day to do other things.

Murakami also valued certain relationships over others and the most indispensable relationship he felt he needed to build was not with a specific person but ‘with an unspecified number of readers’. He considered this ‘invisible conceptual relationship’ to be the most important thing in his life. As a writer, your duty should be to your readers. As long as there was one reader who was happy with your work, that should enough to motivate you towards writing the next thing.

This has certainly changed my whole perspective on writing and made me reflect on why I wanted to write in the first place, and to let go of those stupid fears of not being liked by some people. Could you be happy with just one satisfied reader? Would that be enough for you to continue? You can’t please everybody! Write for the one person who would like it and benefit from it, and would wait patiently for your next book. Write for that person.


The most important qualities a novelist has to have

1. Talent

Talent is what fuels a writer. The only problem with talent is that you can’t control how much you have. It has a mind of its own, which can well up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that’s it.

Some people are naturally talented writers, while others need to work a little harder to get there. Some can write a novel in mere weeks or months, while others take years to churn one out. Murakami actually doesn’t consider himself to be naturally talented, yet, his work has become so popular over the years. He worked really hard to get there — he had to ‘pound the rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole’ before he could locate his source of creativity. This gave him a motivation to dig deeper and deeper, and —  in a way — it allowed his creativity to last as long as it has. If people rely on a ‘natural spring’ of talent, they might suddenly be in trouble when they find that they’ve exhausted their only source. Being not-so-naturally talented may end up giving you an advantage, because you push yourself to keep going and improving, honing and refining your writing.

2. Focus

Focus is having the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever is critical at the moment. Without focus, you simply cannot accomplish anything of value. Focus can even compensate for your limited talent or lack of it. When you don’t think of anything else and just solely on your writing, you’d be surprised with what you can accomplish. Even if you are a writer with a natural spring of talent, you won’t be able to write well without focus or concentration.

3. Endurance

Writers of fiction or long novels really need endurance in order to concentrate on writing every day over a long period of time.

Murakami describes endurance so perfectly in this quote: “If concentration is the process of just holding your breath, endurance is the process of slowly, quietly breathing at the same time you’re storing air in your lungs.” You need to continue to breathe while you hold your breath.

Endurance, like focus, can be acquired and sharpened through training. It is just like training muscles. If you do it consistently every day, you can gradually expand your limits and push yourself further and further than what you were originally able to do. It takes a lot of patience and self-discipline. This kind of training is extremely important and indispensable for a writer, as well as a marathon runner.


These are just some of the great lessons I’ve come across while reading this book. I highly recommend anyone who has a desire to write or run, or even just want a new perspective on life, to read this book. You are bound to find something that inspires you or change the way you think and look at life.

 

Get it on Amazon Kindle

Book Review: ‘YOU’ and ‘Hidden Bodies’

‘YOU’ 

you

Ok, I actually read these books last year but realised I didn’t post a review on my blog. I wanted to add it now, after finishing Season 2 of YOU on Netflix. So let’s start with the book ‘YOU’…

I just want to say: Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up! (Reference to the man singing at the train station.) I cannot believe how fast I devoured this psychological, mind-blowing, twisted thriller that was soooooo bad yet soooooo good! I could not put it down!

I’ll admit that I started reading it after watching the Netflix series YOU Season 1. There were some characters that were changed or added in the show that made it even better than the book, in some ways (the neighbour’s kid Paco, especially, because he made Joe seem like a caring human being despite his sick, twisted mind). But the book also just flows and takes a hold of you and doesn’t let you go and you just find yourself turning the pages (not realising how much time has passed, ignoring your full bladder, bowel movements, and feelings of hunger).

I was so confused about my feelings for Joe. I found myself falling for him and rooting for him and wanting him, and then I realised how f-d up that was because he is f-d up and crazy and a stalker and, oh, so much is wrong with him. And now, I’m even thinking and writing like him with long sentences filled with ‘and’s and not needing to take a breath in my thoughts.

I am in awe of Caroline Kepnes and how she came up with this twisted tale, his character, his voice, his mind and even making readers sympathise with this psychopathic stalker / killer! I love the many literary, music and film references in this book and it makes me want to read those books (Desperate Characters, Dr Sleep, On the Road) and watch those films (Pitch Perfect). These elements were weaved into the storyline and helps you to understand the character and personality of Joe, his observations, perceptions and opinions. They made his character come alive and feel like a real relatable person, despite his dark twisted mind.

I love how Joe bags on Dan Brown and then gets Beck to read The Da Vinci Code together and go a journey together. (I don’t know why so many people hate on Dan Brown; I love The Da Vinci Code!) And he ends up loving it (I was disappointed to know she didn’t really read the whole thing)! The way how she incorporated Stephen King’s release of Doctor Sleep into the story was so clever, too. Then to find out that Mr. King himself recommended the book on Twitter, saying that YOU was ‘Hypnotic and scary’, made me feel excited for Ms. Kepnes. Imagine writing about an author in your book and then having that author read and give you a positive review on it – that is like the biggest compliment ever! What would have made it even cooler is if Dan Brown had also read it and given his take on it!

The book reads like a diary but also like a letter and it’s all written in second person, literally, using ‘You’. I feel like I learned a lot about storytelling and story writing, the use of voice, narrative, sentence construction, obscure references and vocabulary, and even the use of punctuation! This book is such a well-crafted piece of work! I read it on Kindle and eventually bought a hardcopy paperback because I felt like I needed a physical copy of this masterpiece to line my bookshelf. Caroline Kepnes is such a talented writer and to see that YOU is actually her first novel just makes me love her even more!

‘Hidden Bodies’

hiddenbodies

After reading ‘You’, I found myself rooting for Joe and hoping he could just find a nice girl to settle down with. He certainly managed to find that girl in this sequel, but not without difficulty or assholes getting in the way of his happiness. He continues to justify his killing by describing everyone’s faults, how the world would be a better place without them. And Joe always manages to convince you that he is doing the right thing! I wanted him to pay for what he did and I wanted him to be happy and find love at the same time. This is what is so frustrating about this whole thing! The mind of a serial killer is not to be trusted yet I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him and sympathising with him. This is totally f-d up, right?

That is how brilliant Caroline Kepnes is! She makes you question everything about our lives, the society we live in today, our over-dependency on social media to share every detail of our lives, how vulnerable we are and how quickly we begin to trust people we barely know.
But I do have some issues with the #mugofurine that managed to go unnoticed for months in Peach Salinger’s house. I mean, wouldn’t it start to smell after a few days? Surely, flies or bugs would just start swarming toward that mug. Seriously, how?!

Some parts were predictable for me though. When Forty managed to survive the whole ordeal, he blackmailed Joe into writing his future scripts for him. I saw that coming, given what an asshole Forty is and how ungrateful he is to everyone in his family. The way he ended up dying in the end was more amusing than shocking. And I just loathed that name – Forty, with a twin called Love.
What I liked about ‘You’ was that a lot of the characters and events seemed more relatable and even quite plausible. But ‘Hidden Bodies’ was too far-fetched and extreme.

When Joe was invited to the Quinn property, it felt a bit like Rachel Chu entering the Crazy Rich Asians mansion. How Joe met Love and how quickly their romance just blossomed after a couple weeks did not seem realistic at all. Just because she is 35 and had two unsuccessful marriages doesn’t mean she must settle down with the next guy she dates but that is precisely what she says! So even after learning about Joe’s past, after he literally confesses to being a murderer, she still decides to be with him and protect him and even goes to retrieve his #mugofurine. Oh, come on!

The ending – the last few chapters – just seemed rushed, trying to tie up every loose end. And it didn’t really end end. It’s not a real ending and I hate that I want to know what happens – if the cops will be able to pin him for the murders; if he will get away with everything and become a father and marry Love and live happily ever after. I hate that I need to know these things!

Season 2 of YOU on Netflix was so different from the book, which really frustrated me. The most annoying thing is Candace being not dead and trying to sabotage everything and even dating Forty. Then when she finally caught Joe red-handed and told Love everything, Love kills Candace – WTF! Oh, yeah, the guy in the cage (not in the book) whom Joe had locked up was actually killed by Love, not Joe. This plot is so far off from the book and made Love into a crazy bitch and not the perfect girl for Joe at all. They’re two completely different stories. The show again completely failed to resolve the #mugofurine situation and it wasn’t even brought up throughout the entire season. Dr. Nicky was brought back and he has become this weak man, not caring about clearing his name or trying to get revenge on Joe. He basically declares to Forty that he deserves to be in jail for his other sins (namely, cheating on his wife) even though he didn’t kill Beck. It was frustrating to watch, yet I want to rewatch it.

I also want to reread the book after watching the show. I saw from Kepnes’ Instagram that she will be writing two more books in the YOU series and I will definitely be buying them. I just hope they will be as good as the first book and not disappointing, as many sequels tend to be.