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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

The Other Typist


This 1920's story tells of a morally-upright young woman who loses her principles as her fascination with a friend deepens.

THIS is the story of Rose Baker, a typist at one of New York City's police precincts, and her obsession with her new colleague, the glamorous Odalie Lazare.

Set in 1924, it is the era of Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal, and homemade moonshine and underground speakeasies flourished.

It is also a time when women, especially middle-class, educated ones like Rose, started to have more employment opportunities open to them, and more social freedom.

It is the time of flapper fashion, bobbed hair and the Charleston – none of which Rose approves of, but which Odalie embraces.

The orphaned Rose, brought up strictly in a convent, is a stickler for Victorian-era morals, and strict rules and regulations.

Exemplifying her tastes are her admiration for the old-fashioned, morally-upright Sergeant of her Lower East Side precinct, versus her rather antagonistic relationship with the younger, more casual Lieutenant Detective.

Charismatic Odalie, on the other hand, is everything Rose is not – rich, attractive, independent and captivating.

Told from Rose's point-of-view, the story begins when Odalie walks into Rose's precinct to interview for an opening as typist.

As Rose narrates: "I recognised something was happening the very second she walked in the door for her interview.

"On that particular day, she entered very quietly and calmly, but I knew: it was like the eye of a hurricane.

"She was the dark epicentre of something we didn't quite understand yet, the place where hot and cold mixed dangerously, and around her everything would change."

True enough, contrary to her moral upbringing, when Odalie drops an expensive jewelled brooch on her way out, Rose picks it up and keeps it.

Although she tells herself she will return it when Odalie starts work, she never does.

Like everyone else, she falls under the spell of Odalie's charms, and becomes convinced that they are meant to be bosom buddies.

Slowly, she gets drawn deeper and deeper into Odalie's world of high living and casual fun.

But Odalie is not all that she seems, and the path of friendship (or obsession) that Rose starts on soon leads to dark places.

While the core of the story is about Rose's relationship with Odalie and the effect Odalie has on her, the reader is also slowly and subtly given deeper insight into Rose's character.

And while it is Odalie's character that is given the air of mystery, it is actually Rose who is the more complex and intriguing of the two.

In a bit of clever pacing, first-time author Suzanne Rindell scatters hints of a dramatic outcome to the relationship throughout the first part of the book.

Some reviewers found that this made the novel a page-turner, but to me, it seemed rather inevitable that the relationship between the two girls would end badly; so, it wasn't exactly a one-sitting read for me (I finished the book in three sittings, if anyone's interested).

My main appreciation of Rindell's writing is for her excellent job in developing a main character that is not wholly likable, yet interesting enough to maintain the reader's attention – something quite difficult to accomplish when it is that character's voice that is narrating the story.

This is the kind of book that would be excellent for a book club, as it is bound to generate much discussion, especially with regards to Rose's character and motivations.

Overall, The Other Typist is an interesting read that delves into the themes of manipulation and self-delusion.

And for those who prefer the visual medium, it has been reported that Fox Searchlight has picked up the movie rights to the book, and is developing it with Keira Knightley in mind as the star and producer.



Bosco is a storyteller, and they make the best authors. He is quite a prolific writer – having the Sherlock Hong detective series as well as Time Talisman, My Blade Quest, School Of Magical Stories, Fantasy & Friends, Ghostly and Diary Of Young Justice Bao published over the past few years.

Of the three titles that I've read (Ghostly, Diary Of Young Justice Bao and Sherlock Hong), I like Sherlock Hong best – the plot is intriguing with twists and turns to keep you guessing and turning the pages.

Ghostly has a bit of that – although the storyline and setting is nothing like Sherlock Hong. Ghostly is about Zoe of Iskandar High School and her friends Seth, Chong and Karina who discover something fishy going on in their school.

Seth first finds a paper dragon, which looks harmless enough, but has the power to open a portal to another world.

To make matters worse, one of their teachers – Miss Yeung – is after that paper dragon and seems to dabble in black magic.

Seth and Zoe consult Uncle Amir to get some advice. He tells them all about the Ghostly Circle, consisting of a group of scholars in China, who have found a way to enter a parallel dimension where angry ghosts exist.

It is up to Seth and Zoe with the help of Chong and Karina to keep the paper dragon away from Miss Yeung, prevent the angry ghosts from coming over from their dimension, and finding a way to save their school.

But it's not as simple as that. Miss Yeung has help from someone called Demon Boy!

Sounds scary? It's not too scary that your kids will be having nightmares.

I liked the subtle message that Bosco throws into the book to get kids to keep their school clean. I do wish the two friends who help Seth and Zoe – Karina and Chong – were introduced earlier and played a bigger role. But, overall, it makes for interesting reading and definitely something different for your eight- to 10-year-old to read.

Another of Bosco's books is Diary Of A Young Justice Bao – The Case Of The Grand Fish. This story is about Bao Zheng, or a young Justice Bao, helping to solve a case in old China.

When Bao Zheng's friend Jade and her father, printer Master Lu, are arrested by Governor Chong for theft and treachery, he takes it upon himself to find out what happened and to find out the truth. The Governor's men believe Master Lu stole the village Grand Fish of Confucius – which is said to be an ancestral relic and which attracts visitors to the village; visitors who come bearing gifts and donations.

To steal it is to take away the village's good fortune.

Bao Zheng sneaks into the jail to visit Jade. There, Jade tells him that she saw two soldiers sneaking out of her house with a wooden chest. Bao Zheng also learns from Beggar Nan that the man in the red mask has more information. Who is this man in the red mask and how will Bao Zheng find him?

Before he can get any answers, Warden Yang catches him and throws him in jail!

Being a book for preteens, the mystery of course gets solved and ends happily. That said, I wish there were more of a mystery and perhaps a longer story.

I thought the answers were thrown at the reader too easily and there didn't seem to be much suspense, nor was there enough intrigue.

Bosco has made this book pocket-sized so that it's easy for schoolchildren to carry around or put in their bag.

He seems to love the old China/Singapore setting and he captures that environment and atmosphere well.

Being books for preteens, there's not much character development from just one book. You need to read the series to find out more about Zoe, Seth and Bao Zheng.

Would I recommend Bosco's books? In a snap. Of these two books, I'd get Ghostly. It had more interesting elements and twists and turns and it will leave you wanting more.

Both books have the potential to be turned into series, which I'm sure is what Bosco is going to do. Fans will get to follow the protagonists' adventures as these characters are developed. I look forward to reading more of his books.

For more information on Don Bosco and to get his books, go to

Related story: 

Don Bosco Supercool author

The Signature of all things


SHE is not your typical girl-next-door type. If anything, she is tall and stout, her face oozes masculinity, and she could pass as a man with long hair and a bosom.

But in spite of her apparent lack of physical attractiveness, she is the daughter of a multi-millionaire, has more knowledge in her head than twenty men put together, can confidently engage in an academic argument with great scientists and thinkers, and without even looking, name all the flowers and plants in a field.

Above it all, Alma Whittaker is brave, resolute, resourceful and strong-spirited, yet vulnerable – that is precisely why you immediately fall in love with her when you read Elizabeth Gilbert's latest novel, The Signature of All Things.

Set in the 1800s, Signature tracks the life of Alma from the moment she is born into the Whittaker clan, one of the wealthiest families in Philadelphia.

The only daughter of formidable tycoon Henry Whittaker, a poor Englishman who made his fortune through sheer resolve and intelligence, and Beatrix Whittaker, an intelligent Dutch woman, Alma is born into privilege.

But things take an about-turn for Alma when Prudence, a girl her age, is saved from a tragedy (Prudence's father killed her mother before hanging himself) and eventually adopted into the Whittaker family.

Unlike Alma, Prudence is pretty and dainty, and for the first time, Alma sees how different she is. Constant compliments from guests and Henry himself on Prudence's beauty do not help either.

Yet, a semblance of sisterhood is forged between the girls, and Alma continues to excel in the field of botany.

Alma becomes a well-known botanist and science writer, and ends up marrying Ambrose Pike, a man who can draw orchids with surgical precision and is engrossed in the spiritual – something Alma is not accustomed to.

When her marriage falls apart, she goes to Tahiti, where she meets an old friend of her husband's, and later, to her mother's birthplace in Amsterdam. In the end, with decades of experience and wisdom borne from observing the people closest to her, Alma develops a theory called "A Theory of Competitive Alteration", that she believes can stand as equal to Charles Darwin's On The Origin Of Species.

"The natural world was a place of punishing brutality, where species large and small competed against each other in order to survive... This in itself was not an original idea... But Alma's story had a twist. Alma hypothesised, and had come to believe, that the struggle for existence – when played out over vast periods of time – did not merely define life on earth; it had created life on earth."

What makes Signature a good read is that the stories of these wonderful and cleverly-crafted characters unravel with great historical events as a backdrop.

You read about Charles Darwin and Captain Cook (whose voyage Henry was a part of when he was a young lad), and in a sense, may begin to believe that these characters Gilbert has conjured actually lived and breathed with these historic figures.

Gilbert has exhaustively researched this era into which she throws her characters. Even her knowledge of botany is extraordinary, and if you but allow yourself to be immersed in it, Signature comes across, at least to this reviewer, as an exciting historical narrative.

The beginning chapters of Signature is reminiscent of Wuthering Heights, with Gilbert tracing Henry's rags-to-riches story like Emily Bronte does with Heathcliff.

Henry's rise to power is riddled with despair, betrayal, sacrifice and a whole lot of cunning, as Gilbert keeps us guessing about his dark and thrilling adventures.

Gilbert also has an army of deliciously-written characters (botanists, writers, abolitionists, Tahitians and the Dutch) who are deployed masterfully at critical interjections in the story. Some may come and go swiftly, like autumn leaves soaring in the air, but some stay and take root in the pages and in your mind.

One such character is Retta Snow.

Just short of being a loose canon, Retta is a volatile girl whose family moves in to an estate not too far Henry's. She bursts into laughter at the simplest of jokes and sobs intensely the very next moment over a trivial issue, only to leap back again with tonnes of mirth.

Moreover, the characters develop gradually and endearingly, like a flower in bloom, especially Alma.

She may come across as a cold and rigid woman, but when you discover her inner desires, and how they inform her decisions and responses, you cannot help but agree with her.

Indeed, it is so easy to empathise with Alma, perhaps even see yourself in her.

Signature, does, however, have its share of letdowns. Gilbert sometimes spends more time or words than necessary on certain situations or characters, making some portions a laborious read. There were also some moments when this writer felt irritated by the book's sheer length.

Nevertheless, Signature is a stellar offering, with riveting tales, captivating characters and absorbing historicity.


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