Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: Sirens – Joseph Knox

There are only really three things that I know for sure after having read this book:

  1. I will probably think twice before I ever volunteer to visit Manchester.
  2. I will never understand why some people would choose to take drugs
  3. I should think twice before opting to take such a gruesome crime novel with me whilst I’m on holiday

Joseph Knox spins a tale about a detective who has gone undercover to investigate some kind of drug cartel in Manchester and at the same time to look into the disappearance of an MP’s teenage daughter.

Detective Aiden Waits is a shady character at best, and he comes close to answering the age old question about whether a cop and a criminal are two sides of the same coin. If you spend the majority of your time trying to think like a criminal, how much more can you take before you are unable to distinguish yourself from the people whose crimes you’re trying to stop?

The good detective made some phenomenally bad choices throughout this book; he wasn’t the kind of main character I could really get behind on. He alternated between being stupidly arrogant and pitifully weak; he couldn’t figure out what was really going on until the last possible minute (neither could I, but I’m not a detective) and he almost seemed to play into the hands of the true perpetrators for about 70% of the book. So, no, he wasn’t the strongest point of this story.

The development of the rest of the supporting characters, however, fairly overshadowed that of Detective Waits. It takes much for me to sympathise with drug dealers and corrupt officials, but Joseph Knox did such a good job of showing their different backgrounds without bogging the story down. He offers no excuses for their actions, merely asking the readers to empathise and understand the life choices that have brought them to their present circumstances.

Its easier to judge people from behind glass houses, not so easy when you’re knee deep in shite with no other way out. We are all, I think, victims of our personal circumstances. Some of us just do better at rising against bad circumstances than others. But if you put yourself in other people’s shoes for a moment and think about how your own life could have been so different if you had to walk a mile in their shoes…you wouldn’t be so quick to judge.

The twists and turns of the story happened at breakneck speed; its such a page-turner that I finished it in a day (the weather was bad and I could not go to the beach as planned). Everything was set against the horrifyingly detailed backdrop of the underbelly of Manchester; Joseph Knox had no qualms about describing the city’s drug scene in all its glory, making me question just how much truth went into this and if so, that must have been some harrowing months of research (although I think I read somewhere that he grew up in Manchester).

The inevitable payoff and solving of the mystery was a little bit anti-climactic; I don’t think the ending was as satisfying as I would have liked. No one was really given an ending, and I’m not sure justice was really served in the end. But I guess that’s the reality of life isn’t it? The good guys don’t always win and the bad guys sometimes go free. Life goes on either way.

Overall, this was a good read! 3 out of 5 stars.

P.S. I think the play on the word ‘Sirens’ and its different meanings as the story progressed was very very clever. I would love to hear what you guys think!

Posted in family, Filipino, relationships

Goodbye, Lolo.

Yesterday was the 3rd death anniversary of my grandfather. I remember so distinctly the moment I found out that he had passed away. I was on leave from London for the first time since getting my work permit. My father’s side of the family was having a reunion in one of the beach resorts in Cebu and we had just finished a scrumptious breakfast buffet.

I was trying to burn a few calories by doing my own version of swimming in the ocean (I can’t swim to save my life) when my uncle hailed us to come back to shore. I thought he was telling us we needed to check out soonish, but then he said that my grandfather (Lolo) had died that morning.

I went up to our suite to find my mother barely keeping it together. Being the eldest child, I knew I had to travel with them back to Samar (another island in the Philippines) so we can lay my Lolo to rest. I had a moment of self-absorption to be honest, because I had my holiday all planned out and that changed everything. But all my plans paled in comparison to the fact that my mum needed my support.

I did not have a great relationship with my grandfather. Because they live in such a remote area of the country I rarely had time to visit them when I started college. I was also quite a spoiled, judgmental teenager who could not wait to go back to the city every time we visited.

His drinking, and the attitude that came with it, really rubbed me the wrong way. I think I was 16 when I first started making it clear that I did not approve of it and I started to pull away. I might, in a fit of adolescent tantrum, have even said all this to his face.

I didn’t realise the value of family until I was much older and living in a city where I didn’t have them. Its only now that I know enough to be ashamed of my actions and to regret never cultivating a better relationship with my Lolo.

When I was 16 all I could see was the drinking and the person he became when he was drunk; I’d forgotten about how, when we were younger and could visit for much longer, he would make every effort to make sure we enjoyed our stay.

He’d catch fish for us, slaughter his chicken and pigs for us (sorry, I know this is crude), introduce us to everyone in the small town and tell everyone how smart we were; he’d sing karaoke with us, take us swimming in the nearby river and watch out for us. Back when we were young and able to appreciate the simple things in life more, we were able to appreciate him more.

My brother and sister were better with him than I was. You see, I went through a phase when I was so full of my own hubris that I thought I was better than everyone else. I had a holier-than-thou attitude that makes me cringe when I think about it now. London has been good for me in so many ways and in a way, living independently has made me more grounded and more appreciative of my family.

I never got to say goodbye. I thought I would have more time. We always think we have more time until we don’t. I can’t even remember when I saw him last (it must have been in 2011 shortly before I left the country), what I said, whether I was able to say I loved him or able to apologise for my shitty attitude towards him growing up, or to tell him that I understand about the drinking.

I visited his grave with my mum, my sister and my aunt and uncle yesterday. We organised a mass for him and said our prayers. It was raining and I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes but I was determined not to complain and to see it through. We then visited our grandma afterwards and we sat around while my uncle reminisced about his last day. It was a sort of catharsis for them all to relive it and to be relieved that he went so peacefully.

He inspired devotion in his children, despite everything. I’m sure they also found him challenging but they loved him so much that they’d travel from afar every year, even after his death, just to visit. He took care of them and made sure that they had good lives and a good future. That’s the minimum that you can ask of a parent and I’ve seen enough of the world to know that not everyone is so lucky.

He was a good man.

There’s no one on earth who can say that they’ve lived a life with no regrets; this is one of mine. I can’t go back and change the past but I can be better and do right by my remaining family in the future.

I think this is one of the reasons why I’m home this month rather than off exploring the world. You never really know how much time you have with the people you love. With my sister also home on leave, we’re a complete family for the first time in 3 years. That’s more important to me than climbing Machu Pichu.

Its ironic but I don’t actually come from a family where its easy to express words of affection. Words are wind anyway, its our actions that speak volumes. I will try to be a better person than I was to my grandfather but I also just wanted to write this blog as a love letter to tell him the things I never said and to say goodbye.

Rest in peace, Lolo.

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review: How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

Its currently 4:30 am in the Philippines and I’ve had zero sleep because of jet lag. The only good thing that’s come out of that is that I managed to finish this book that I bought ages ago but only just decided to read.

This book had far too many similarities to The Age of Adaline and The Time Traveller’s Wife for me to be comfortable reading it when I wasn’t in the right headspace. As most of you know, I tend to get too involved in the lives of the characters I’m reading such that their emotions become my own. And as much as I love books like these, I know without a doubt that they never have a happy ending.

Tom Hazard looks like a normal forty-year-old attempting to teach history in East London. In reality, he is 439 years old and has lived through both the Great Wars, met and worked with Shakespeare, had drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald and has witnessed all the defining moments of history. He has a condition called anageria, which means he only ages a year every 3 or 4 decades.

Tom is part of a society of people who are just like him and the idea is to protect each other from threat and exposure. There are a few rules: no photographs (difficult in this age of selfies!), move every eight years and of course, don’t fall in love. Apparently, this is the one thing guaranteed to drive you insane (I wholeheartedly concur).

It would be easy for me to dismiss this book out of hand if it turned out to be just another story of love defying all odds and impossibilities. Its not that; rather, the reader is allowed to go on a journey as Tom discovers the difference between existing and living. I think that this, this moment in time, is the perfect time for me to read this book.

You see I think it throws everyone off their game, turning 30 and realising that you’ve become a full-fledged adult with 3 decades of experience behind you. Being 30 comes with expectations, the word marriage is mentioned much more often (along with children, babies, etc). We spend so much our time thinking of, planning for and worrying about the future.

Its the same thing with dwelling on the past; there’s never any point in being stuck on the mistakes and the what if’s but we do it anyway, when in fact the only thing you should be doing about the past is learning from it. I think this is what Tom came to realise in this book. The secret to enjoying life is in enjoying the process; its the journey, not the destination after all.

For all its faults (that ending was a bit abrupt and tidy), the book is incredibly poignant. It reminds us that to live in fear is not to live at all. It tells us that things are going to happen that we won’t be able to control but just like a surfer, you should just be able to ride out the waves.

Everything is going to be all right. Or if not, everything is going to be, so let’s not worry.

As many of you know, I am a little bit obsessed with the concept of destiny and seemingly random moments that turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. So yeah, I found myself relating to this book and nodding along to Tom’s internal monologues. It can seem a bit much, but stick with it and you can see kernels of truth of like this one:

That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days – some years – some decades are empty. There is nothing to them. Its just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. When I look back on the past 5 or 6 years of my life, its not the big moments that I relive when I need a good memory. Its the many small moments that I didn’t think amounted to anything at the time. I wish I was better at taking photos or that I had time to write about even the mundane things, because someday when time has passed me by these are the memories I’d fight to keep.

And lastly, just to get out of the depressing mood of that last paragraph, I think Matt Haig makes a case in point of what I’ve come to believe is a universal truth: the present is vastly underrated. We don’t appreciate the present until it becomes the past. What is so wrong with us that we can’t seem to just live in the moment? Life is far too short to be stressed all the time. Someone please remind me of this the next time I moan about being stressed!

I won’t tell you if Tom discovers the secret to stopping time, I’ll leave you to read that for yourself. But in a book with so many quotable quotes, I’d like to end with the one that really spoke to me:

If only we could find a way to stop time. That’s what we need to work on. You know, for when a moment of happiness floats along…

We so very rarely get true moments of happiness. When you do, hold on to it and enjoy it. That’s my secret for stopping time, anyway.

Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, romance

Life Lessons from A Man Called Ove

Ove and Romance

Maybe he didn’t write her poems or serenade her with songs or came home with expensive gifts. But no other boy had gone the wrong way on a train for hours every day just because he liked sitting next to her while she spoke.

People said Ove saw the world in black and white but she was color. All the colour he had.

Ove and True Love

Loving someone is like moving into a house. At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you…then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love the house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather its imperfections.

Ove and Being a Man

Men like Ove and Rune were from a generation in which one was what one did, not what one talked about.

They say the best men are born out of their faults and that they improve later on, more than if they’d never done anything wrong.

Ove and Making Time for the Things That Matter

…all people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.

Ove and Loss

Death is a strange thing…we fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take away someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

Ove and Destiny

She always said all roads lead to something you were predestined to do. And for her perhaps it was something, but for Ove, it was someone.

Ove and Life

He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced.

One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps.

And just as a bonus, because this is also one of my favourite things in the world…

Of all the imaginable things he misses most about her, the thing he really wishes he could do again was hold her hand in his.

Sigh. You will fall in love with this book. Buy it now!

Cheers, bookworms! 😘

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review – A Man Called Ove

In 2009, Disney Pixar’s ‘Up‘ was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Before this film, there had only been one other animated feature nominated in this category (Beauty and The Beast). I was one of the millions and millions of people who watched this film, and I still hold the opinion that that Best Picture nod owes itself to the first 5 minutes of the movie, the most gut-wrenching, heart-stabbing, tear-inducing 5 minutes I’ve ever experienced while watching a cartoon.

A Man Called Ove will draw the inevitable comparison to Up because they have pretty similar themes and messages. For example, both will make you think about the things that we lost in the name of progress.

You see, I think that while the world has gone forward in leaps and bounds in many respects, we’ve also lost some of the essence of what it means to really value our relationships with other people.

We see other people as dispensable: if we lose one friend there’s always another follower on social media to ease the sting; not happy with the guy you’re currently dating, well, moving on to the next guy is as easy as swiping right with your index finger.

Reading this book gave me all sorts of feels. I mean, let’s start with the fact that it was exceptionally written. It was funny in a way that didn’t take away from the importance of the message it was trying to impart; it was emotional without being heavy-handed; the darker undertones were well-balanced with the lighter moments. Like a metaphor for life, it had its ups and downs, good times and bad times, the tragedy of loss offset by the many small moments that make life worth living. I absolutely loved every single minute of it.

Ove is a throwback to the days where, if something’s broken, you fix it rather than replacing it. He’s simple, straightforward and rule-abiding. He thinks that there should be a place for everything and everything in its place. He doesn’t talk much but he makes sure that when he does that it makes an impact. People think that Ove is bitter and taciturn, but he is one of the most caring and endearing characters that I’ve ever read about in my life.

Above all, Ove is loyal. He is loyal to the people who has somehow wormed their way into his life even as he tried to drive them away. He is loyal to his friends even when he’s feuding heavily with them. He’s loyal to stray cats even as they muck up his daily routines. Most of all, he is loyal to the love of his life, the one person that he would walk through hell for: his wife, Sonja.

This book is about a lot of things: friendship, finding your place in the world and finding a reason to live again. But at the heart of it, its about the love that one person is capable of feeling for another. I stumbled upon this book at a time when I needed a reminder of the kind of love that is worth waiting for.

In this age of Tinder, Bumble, match.,com etc., we need a little of reminder of what love and romance mean. Other people hear romantic and think unrealistic. But romantic to me has never been about the grand gestures; its not the Christian Grey hearts and flowers with a little BDSM version either.

Romantic for me is what Ove had with Sonja: constancy, stability, the kind of love where one would spend hours on a train going in the wrong direction just so he can listen to a girl talk about her favourite books.

Romantic is being there when their noses are runny with the flu; its being there to hold their hand and hug them through the failures and popping open the champagne through the triumphs. Its just about being there, really.

Ove says that every person needs to know what they’re fighting for. I would fight for that kind of love, that kind of relationship. I can only hope to find someone worthy of that kind of bond and I can only pray that I am also worth the kind of love and commitment that I’m looking for.

I didn’t expect a love story when I started this book, but in a nutshell that’s what this is: a love story of Ove and the people whose lives he has touched. Thank you, Frederick Backman, for this amazing book. I love it so much that I’m making another blog post about it. Click on the tag Ove to check out the other life lessons I learned from this gem of a book.

5 out of 5 stars!

Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, london

2017 In Numbers

150 books read in both paperback and Kindle format

Five published reviews on an external website that also pays me for editorial reviews.

More than 50 blog posts on WordPress before I finally feel like I’ve found my voice and rekindled my love for writing.

Reached my target of 100 followers before the year ends.

Nearly a million pounds worth of robotic technology introduced to Orthopaedics (hello, Mako) at work.

But.

Lost four of my good friends because they have to grab opportunities elsewhere. No matter how happy I am for them, nothing has quite been able to fill the gap they left.

Attempted to leave my current work threetimes before finally realising that I can’t do it because UCLH, for better or worse, is home.

Spent £3000 to finally claim Permanent Residency in the UK after 6 long years of being on a working permit. Next stop: hello, British Citizenship.

Somehow managed to lose 3.5 kilos despite being too busy to train by sticking to a 1200 calorie daily diet.

Two fabulous visits in August from my cousin and my very good friend from New Zealand to help me celebrate 30 fabulous years on this earth.

Wedding bells rang this year as someone who’s been one of my best friends for the past 10 years finally tied the knot.

An epic fairy tale wedding that truly proves that love wins over and over again.

Three fabulous Killers concerts!

My own seven attempts at dating within the last 6months with varied results (blah, boring, no sparks, not enough commitment, too intense too soon, meh).

One month of food trips, brilliant conversation, laugh out loud moments, desserts in Trafalgar Square, Netflix and chill, Winter Wonderland (mulled wine for two please) and holding hands while traipsing through a London that seems to shine even brighter this particular winter season.

365 days of joy, laughter, tears, achievements, failures and the many small moments that make life worth living.

2017 has been a mixed bag of memories but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Happy New Year everyone!

Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, Stress Relief, Writing

The 100th and How Blogging Saved My Sanity

When I was a kid growing up I was obsessed with the Sweet Valley series. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield were a big part of my childhood and they were probably one of the biggest influences of my adolescent years. I was gutted when I learned that having twins in the family was a genetic thing because that meant I’d never give birth to identical twin girls that I can dress in matching outfits (now that I’m older I find myself eternally grateful for that! Lol)

As a special edition, Francine Pascal published a ‘Secret Diaries’ edition where readers can be privy to the twins’ innermost thoughts. I read all three volumes of each twin’s diary and this was what inspired me to start my own. I bought my first diary, padlocks and all, when I was 9 and carried on feverishly writing every detail, every significant event (my first period covered three whole pages! Lol), every crush, that first heartbreak, friendships gained and lost, all up until I was around 15.

Overall I think I must have around 10 to 12 volumes total, and it still amuses (and embarrasses) me to read some of them when I go home and think about how simple life was back then even though it probably seemed incredibly complex to a teenager; how I wish my problems today are as simple as whether this one guy likes me or not. Oh wait.Hahahaha

It got a bit harder to find the time to write in a diary as I studied Nursing, and I guess you reach the age where experiences come in waves and there’s simply no time to do anything but ride it out and pray that you land on your feet. It became too difficult to articulate everything I was feeling.

Of course blogging is a completely different format. I mean for one thing, its not exactly secret. In fact the whole point is to reach as many people as possible. You put so much of yourself in the public eye and if I really think about how much I’m opening myself up to possible censure and judgment (I’m sure there’s a fair percentage of the population that wonders who the hell I think I am) I never would have had the courage to start this blog.

But the thing I always remind myself is that I started this for ME. Even if I’m the only one who ever reads my posts (I know they’re a bit long!) I still gain satisfaction from seeing my thoughts put into words. Its so therapeutic to pour out the contents of your mind. When I’m going through something, I am able to blog about how I feel even if I can’t exactly disclose the full details. And when I like something, say a book or what have you, I’m able to share it and communicate with other people who may love it too.

When I started to seriously blog, I discovered a whole community of people who have the same interests as I do. There are a lot of book lovers and book reviewers out there for one thing, and its amazing to think that you can somehow influence their choice of reading material. Blogging about books has opened doors for me and have brought opportunities my way that I never thought were possible. There are also a lot of single people out there who go through the same problems that most single people do when it comes to dating.

I’ve always been very careful to ensure that my virtual life and social media presence doesn’t supersede my actual life. But there’s no denying the fact that blogging was a way for me to unwind and vent and release my frustrations at a time when I really needed it the most. Without it I think I would have gone mental.

And I’m so grateful that there are people out there who actually follow this blog. And I’m writing this massive thank you to my first 100 followers. This was my goal before the year ends, to reach 100 followers, and I’m so happy to have done that. Thanks for putting up with the sap, the drama and the occasional whining. Its been a pleasure blogging and finding my voice again. This is a really awesome way to end the year.

Cheers! Xx