Posted in Books, Classic Literature, Reviews, Uncategorized

Blast From The Past: Book Review – And Then There Were None 

People use the term “classic” to refer to something that transcends generations, a piece of work that remains relevant no matter what decade it is.

 This crime novel from Dame Agatha Christie is a classic in every sense of the word.
The plot is simple. 10 strangers are lured into a secluded island off the coast of Devon by the myseterious U.N. Owen. They started off thinking that it’ll be a nice weekend getaway. Then things take a more sinister turn when, after dinner, a pre-recorded gramophone thingy (I have no idea how a gramophone works) accused them all of being guilty of murder.

All of them denied it of course. There was a plausible explanation behind each accusation. They thought someone was just playing a practical joke…until one of them dies. And then one after the other each member of the party is killed, and the murder method is based on an old nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Soldier Boys.” 

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late; one overslept himself and then there were eight.

The remaining guests soon figured out that because of the seclusion of the island and the inability of the boats from the mainland to come across, the murderer could only be one of them. The author did such a great job of creating the atmosphere; one can almost feel the paranoia mounting. Who can you turn to? Who can you trust?

I was amazed that Agatha Christie was able to cram this much action in so few pages. One would think that the characters wouldn’t be as fleshed out because its such a short novel but this actually proves that you don’t need to waste chapters and chapters just to provide someone’s backstory. And this author had 10 characters to contend with! 10 characters represented by 10 figurines of soldier boys in a mantelpiece, each figurine disappearing after one dies. 

Its clear early on that the motive for the murders is related to some form of justice being metted out. But justice for whom? Is the murderer related to one of the purported victims? Is there a common thread to all the victims that would eventually lead to the identity of the killer? These were some of the thoughts running through my head. It felt a little bit like watching the tv show Lost, which tells you how far ahead of its time this novel was. 

My boss told me that the stage adaptation of this book is also quite good. I can see how this would be great as a play; I sometimes felt while reading it that it comes across as a screenplay more than an actual novel. It still doesn’t take away from the genius of it. I was left completely confounded and guessing until the very end. I went so far as to postulate the theory that these people were really all one person, like they were part of “UN Owen”‘s dissociative personality just like in that film with John Cusack called Identity (spoiler alert: they’re not. There really is a murderer!)

I would recommend this book to all lovers of mystery, especially for those who want to have a good read but get bored with long, drawn-out stories. This is for you! 

Posted in Books, Feminism, Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: Young Jane Young – Gabrielle Zevin 

Its a narrative as old as time.

 
Young, naive woman meets succesful, prominent  and married older man and is mesmerised by his charismatic persona that she decides to pursue him. They inevitably get caught and get caught up in a scandal. He asks for forgiveness from the public and his wife.

 
The wife has to put her game face on and forgive him; she stands by him and his career and puts the mantle of ‘wronged but strong woman on’ and she gets lauded for this behaviour. Its the ONLY thing that gets her through the days when she wants to scream and shout from rage at the shame and humiliation of it all.

 
The other woman becomes a social pariah; an internet joke; a cautionary tale to young girls everywhere; a shining example of everything that feminism isn’t.
He gets away with a metaphorical slap on the wrist and continues to serve his office for at least one more term.


If all that sounds familiar, that’s because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and we all had to bear witness as this political sex scandal was gleefully covered by the media almost two decades ago. I think I must have been 9 or 10 when the whole Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal broke out. Although I was too young to understand the intricacies of that affair, the basics were pretty clear: he cheated on his wife with a young intern under his employ.

This book was based largely on that true-to-life story but its gives a different perspective and a decidely feminist stance. Aviva Grossman is ‘Florida’s Answer to Monica Lewinsky’ and despite the fact that I abhor the idea of mistresses, the author managed to make even me sympathise and relate to her. All she really wanted is to move on from the repurcussions of that youthful indiscretion and start a new life for herself. In the grand scheme of things, and considering all that she went through, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.

 
But the world can be unforgiving. Aviva drew several parallels from ‘The Scarlet Letter’ when reflecting on her experiences and its true. She may not have been asked to wear a big red A in front of the town, true. But all anyone had to do was google her name and they’d find every detail of the affair (she stupidly kept an anonymous blog that everyone eventually figured out was hers). She had a permanent infamous presence on the internet.

 
‘Slut-shaming’ is a term I hear quite often. I don’t specifically know what it means to slut-shame anyone but I guess its when one or more person makes a judgment about another person’s private life and makes her feel ashamed for her choices. Its anything that paints a woman as this character because she appears to be…forward. This book is meant to be a commentary on slut-shaming and it hits more than it misses.
Its certainly made me feel uncomfortable. It made me think about how often we probably do this unconsciously. There may have been instances where we’ve judged another woman too quickly on her choices and labelled them well, a slut, where they may not have deserved it. You never really know what a person is going through and cliche as it may sound there are always two sides to every story. Who are we to judge other people’s choices? F. Scott Fitzgerald had it right when he said:

Whenever you feel like criticising anyone, remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

It all comes down to choice. This is the kind of feminism that books like these fight for: a woman’s right to make and not be judged for the choices she makes. Its not even about the affair and the scandal really. It doesn’t even go into the details of the affair; rather it focuses on the internal struggle between knowing something is wrong and doing it anyway, as well as the long-term effects on Aviva or Jane Young after she had her name legallly changed.

 
Its absolutely inspiring to read the little snippets of feminism that was injected into this book. Its subtle but its there, and it makes you think about how wonderful it is to be human and a woman in 2017, that we’ve come so far in terms of achieving gender equality. I highly recommend this book.

Posted in Feminism, fighting, fitness

Things I Learned From My First Sparring Class

Yesterday, I decided to attend the mixed muay thai class at London Fight Factory for the first time since my friend and trainer Aaron took over teaching the class. I’ve been thinking about where I want to go with muay thai and I got this worm of an idea in my head that I just can’t get rid of. I somehow got it into my head that I might eventually (like, next year) want to fight. For real.

I know, I know. Its a crazy idea. My sister gave me the most incredulous, horrified look when I told her. I think she was already having visions of my broken nose, among other parts of my body that could potentially be damaged in a real muay thai match. Why, why, WHY would I want to do something so crazy?

But. I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve never really pushed myself to do something so far out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been afraid to try anything that’s not academic or intellectual because that’s how I always saw myself. I’ve placed my abilities in a box with very defined limits and everything I’ve done has been based on that. In one of my previous posts, I’ve already talked about how muay thai has changed the way I see myself. And now, for the first time, I’m thinking that if I commit myself to training and if I work hard enough, maybe MAYBE I can get to a level where I can at least put up a good fight. If nothing else, it will give me a goal to works toward and that’s always a good thing.

So, Aaron thought it would be a good idea for me to attend the mixed class and start sparring so that we can see how I do against other people in a controlled environment. I bought a mouth guard to protect myself while sparring, although I ended up not being able to use it because it was too tight (I must have set it wrong, lol). I was so excited and nervous going into the class. Honestly, I’ve seen what these guys do whenever I’m a little early for personal training and Aaron’s still finishing up a class, and its incredibly intimidating.

But you know what? I’m glad I came because it was a real eye-opener, not to mention a shitload of fun! Halfway through I found myself too busy and too focused to be nervous. I didn’t even realise we were already getting to the end of the 90-minute class.  Time flies when you’re making sure you’re able to dodge those kicks and punches. There’s a few things I’ve learned in that session that applies to both my training  that I’d like to share with you guys.

Think about where you can do the most damage

When you first train with muay thai, you start out by hitting pads. I think I somehow got so used to pad-work that I never really thought about the real goal here, which is to aim for actual body parts to either set up your next move or to do the most damage. Because again, its a fight, not an exercise. You’re not hitting pads anymore when you fight, you’re hitting another person.

In our last one-to-one, my trainer gave me an impromptu anatomy lesson so that I would know what I’m hitting when I aim for certain body parts. Like if I do a right body punch, I’m hitting the liver which – if you punch hard enough- is apparently the equivalent of a man getting kicked in the nuts. I’ll take his word for it as I will never have the opportunity to know.

With the first few rounds of sparring, I think I was aiming for the other person’s glove because I was still in a pad-work state of mind. Its only when my partner, Helene, started saying ‘aim for my face’ that I realised that the training wheels are off. I am now punching and kicking a moving, reacting target and I have to punch THEM because for sure they will punch ME. Its something to think about when I attend the next class.

 

Get them before they get you

When I do personal training, we do these drills so that I’m quicker with my punches, especially the jab. See video below.

I never fully understood the point of this exercise until yesterday. You really have to be quicker with the punches and get your hits in so that you’re in control of the situation. That left jab sets up so many of your next moves so if you’re lightning quick with its, the other person literally won’t know what hit them.

Also, I really have to stop apologising whenever my punches actually land. I found myself doing this A LOT yesterday. Like one of my fakes (see next item) would actually work and I’d get a punch in only to ruin it by stopping to say ‘oh sorry, I’m so sorry’. That’s good, I guess, because hurting people does not come naturally to me and goes against my Disney Princess instincts. But this is a fight. Hurting people so they can’t hurt you is kind of the point.

 

The art of misdirection

This was, by far, my most favourite lesson. On our last one-to-one, Aaron taught me how fighters used ‘faking’ to either open up a target or lure their opponent into a trap so they can strike where it hurts. I tried to apply this to sparring yesterday and I think it helped me land a few shots. However, I think I was giving myself away far too much (amateur!). Despite my intense concentration on the opponent before me, I could hear Aaron’s voice in the periphery saying ‘Eyes front Angela, you give yourself away each time because you’re looking at your next target’.

I know I keep talking about how I’m doing muay thai to prove to myself that I am more than just my brain but the truth is, it is way more mental than people give it credit for. You really have to have a strategy and think about what you can do, or how to do something your opponent won’t expect or won’t see coming (and therefore, won’t be able to block against).

A good defence is a good offence, and vice versa

So I’ve talked about being lightning quick with those jabs, but really there will be times when you WILL be on the receiving end of said jabs and you have to put up a good defense. I think this is the area that I have to work on the most. I could have done better with blocking some of those punches and kicks that I received (and maybe avoid getting hit in the b***bs so much). I let my guard down a lot of times and got my fair share of jabs, and they really hurt. So when Aaron was giving me those anatomy lessons and saying how a punch straight in the nose will disorientate your opponent? Oh boy, he wasn’t kidding. Getting punched in the nose, even in class, is not an experience I particularly want to repeat.

Nor do you want to put yourself in a position where you’re just defending and blocking all the time. You somehow have to find a way to extricate yourself from that situation, or back yourself out of that corner, so that you’re in the offensive – and in control – once again. I’ll have to work on this. I think I have good reflexes and really, its only natural to move out of the way when something comes at you but I have to channel those natural instincts into a skill.

 

Kill the boy, and let the man be born.

Line sounds familiar? Its from Game of Thrones for those of you living under a rock. Maester Aemon gave this advice to Jon Snow when he first got elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and it just came to me when I was thinking about the class I’d just attended, and from the watching the other women in class. Its amazing: they ask for and give no quarter. They pair up with other men and get treated and respected as an equal.

I came to class thinking I’d tell my teacher and whoever I ended up being paired with to go easy on me because I’ve not sparred before but actually, I realise that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to FIGHT. I wanted to take the hits and know that the world didn’t end because I got punched in the nose a few times. I can only learn from it (BLOCK, ANGELA, BLOCK) and be better from it. I think if you do muay thai you have to be strong mentally as well as physically.

By the time I got to my third partner for the day, I was actually saying ‘its my first time but don’t hold back on me’ (I mean, don’t hurt me or anything, but don’t hold back. haha). I wanted to learn and believe me, I did. Kill the girl, and let the fighter be born. 

 

If anyone’s interested in attending these classes, you can find the London Fight Factory Timetable here. Its really great and people are really supportive, I’d really recommend it!

Posted in Lifestyle, Music, relationships

Haters Gonna HateHateHateHateHate: Why I Really REALLY Like – And Relate To – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift releases a new single and its big news on the internet. Sure, some of the reactions were negative but they were reactions nonetheless. Even though people criticised the song “Look What You Made Me Do” the fact remains that they listened and took the time to react to it. They say the opposite of love is indifference so we must all love Taylor Swift, because love her or hate her, you just can’t ignore her.

Like Tay-Tay, I often feel the need to take on all my haters. And for some reason I also have quite a lot of Kanye’s and Katy Perry’s in my life. People who insist on portaying my character in a certain way; people who just can’t leave me alone. And for some stupid reason, I always get affected by what these people say even though really, in the grand scheme of things, I never really gave a f**k about their opinion until I heard all the s**t they’ve been saying about me. And when finally confronted about their behaviour, these master manipulators find a way to turn the tables on you and make it seem like you were in the wrong. They even have the nerve to cite “evidence”. They twist your words to their own nefarious purpose.

Like Tay-Tay, I find it hard to keep a low profile. I know she’s trying to do that by erasing all her previous social media posts but believe me, she won’t be able to help herself because I think just like me, she will always feel the need to defend herself. She also cares far too much about how she’s viewed by the general public. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell us you can’t please everyone. People-pleasing is a DISEASE, its an ADDICTION and I would like to check into rehab please. I feel like every time she speaks up, I get validation that I’m not alone in this world. Lol. That sounded way too creepy. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that it makes me feel better, when dealing with my own detractors, to know that at least its not as bad as what Taylor Swift must be dealing with and like her, I can channel all that hate into creative energy. Like writing. 



After a disastrous week, this new Taylor Swift single could not have come at a more auspicious time. Its the lead single to her new album ‘Reputation‘ and I for one am really looking forward to listening to that album. I will now have something besides ‘Shake It Off‘ to play when someone throws shade at me. You go, Taylor. Keep doing you. Just like you said in one of your songs:



I am officially putting a period to this week; all this hating and all this drama. So much negative energy is not good for my stress-eating. People, let us all take this opportunity to shake it off. Happy Friday!

Xx

Posted in Books, friendship, Reviews, Women's literature

Book Review: Eleanor Elephant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

How to describe Eleanor Oliphant in five hundred words or less?

She’s 29 years old and thinks telling people she works in an office is the fastest way to get them to stop asking questions about what she does.

She can go days without ever talking to another living soul. And no, her potted plant – for all its photosynthetic capabilities – does not count.

She’s got a decided opinion on a lot of things. In fact, she reminds me of a female version of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. She takes things literally and portions of human interaction just stump her in its sheer stupidity. To illustrate my – or shall I say Eleanor’s – point, I present to you Eleanor Oliphant’s List Of Inexplicable Things Other People Do:

They choose things like plates, bowls and cutlery – I mean what are they doing at the moment: shovelling food from packets into their mouths with their bare hands? I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalising  a human relationship necessitates friends, family and co-workers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them.

Eleanor on the madness of a wedding gift registry 

 

I have yet to find a genre of music I enjoy; its basically audible physics, waves and energised particles, and, like most sane people, I have no interest in physics

Eleanor on the tortures of music

and my personal favourite:

I started to wonder why the band was singing about, presumably, the Young Men’s Christian Association, but then, from my very limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and fire-starting and Emily Bronte novels, so, I supposed why not a gender- and faith-based youth organization

Eleanor on Y.M.C.A. by The Village People 

Bits and pieces of this book truly were laugh-out-loud funny; so much so that its easy to overlook the many messages that its trying to get across. Its hard to put into words just how much this book and this character has affected me. At the heart of it, its a story about a woman’s journey to discovering that you don’t go through life just trying to survive from one day to the next, you want to truly live. And to do that, we have to be able to forge connections with other people. People who pretend that they don’t need other people are deluding themselves. Neediness is a part of human nature, deal with it.

The trouble is, people sometimes are more trouble than they’re worth. They’ll judge you based on your appearance, talk about you behind your back or laugh at you. What I admire about Eleanor is how she handles people likt that. I mean clearly she doesn’t interact with or relate to them in the normal way. But who are we to say what’s normal or abnormal? Eleanor just gets on with things; she ignores the people in her office and doesn’t give a shit about what they think because she’s already gone through the worst thing that a person can experience, something she doesn’t fully remember until near the end of the book. Compared to that, office gossip and ridicule is a walk in the park.

By helping out an old man who suddenly has a heart attack, Eleanor is gradually drawn to new acquaintances, especially Raymond Gibbons who works in IT in the company where she herself works. She gains new experiences; its absolutely hilarious to witness (or read) her first forays into things that are normal for most women: manicure, a haircut and a head of highlights, waxing! I had tears in my eyes from laughter.

Towards the end, I had tears in my eyes for a different reason. Eleanor Oliphant’s message on unconditional love and friendship is powerful. We all need someone who will love us for who we are; who will comfort us when we’re sick because they care, not because they’re expecting anything in return; who will see your faults and be able to accept them. 

Eleanor is adamant that no matter how many new things she tries, she will make it a point to be true to herself, and that is something that I think I can do a bit better. One of my favourite quotes by Erasmus is when he said that “it is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be who he is”. I could not have put it better myself.

At the end of this book, Eleanor’s past is revealed and we come to understand why she is the way she is. There’s a twist at the end that I should have seen coming and I thought it was not only clever but necessary to the plot. There’s also a sense of a new beginning for our girl, even a hint of romance. By the way, I really liked how this book didn’t make romance the central plot but rather, was injected just enough to drive the narrative forward. The way relationships and love were used in the story is something that we can all relate to, especially where the author points out our tendency to idealise someone in our minds and our need to believe that the “perfect” someone exists. 

Finally, reading this book made me wonder just how many times a day British people say “are you alright?” It’s like the standard greeting apart form ‘hello’. After five years of living here, even I’ve picked up that habit. I’ve always wondered how people will actually react if someone unburdens their life problems when asked that question. Are we really interested or are we just being polite? It seems like all we really want to hear is that they’re “FINE” even when they’re not. 

No one is really truly completely fine. There’s good days and bad days, and days that make life worth living. Live life so that you have more of the latter. I would truly recommend this book to anyone! 

Check out Eleanor Oliphant here

 

Posted in relationships, Self-Discovery

No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)

Enough is enough, I can’t go on, I can’t go on no more, no

No More Tears| Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer 

I will be the first to admit that I suck at keeping a low profile. It’s not like I go out of my way to be visible or to live my life like an open book, its just the way I am. Where other people keep their cards close to their chest, I would fan them out for the world to see. If I’m doing something I’m passionate and excited about, the whole world will get a blow-by-blow account of every failure and every triumph. I see no problem with sharing so much of myself with the world. In an alternate life, I would have made such a fabulous celebrity. Lol. 
The problem with sharing so much of yourself with the world is that it leaves so much room for interpretation. People will always attach different meanings to the things you do and often these meanings are a projection; when people judge you, how they judge you is more a reflection of them than of you. 

When I was in college, I earned a reputation for being studious and a good student. For some reason, I also earned the reputation of being annoying and a braggart. I used to study two weeks in advance for every major exam because I cannot cram. I’m just not made to do things at the last minute. So inevitably, three days before a long exam I would be relaxed where most people were still frantically trying to finish revising. Apparently, I used to – unintentionally- rub this fact in other people’s faces. So where I thought I was trying to help my close friends study by quizzing them and sharing what I already know, I was actually seen to be bragging and telling the world ‘hey losers, look at me. I’ve finished studying. I’m smart, you’re stupid. Eat my shorts.’ Or something like that because for some reason there were people in college who thoroughly hated my guts even though for the life of me, I’ve never interacted with them in my life.

I suppose I can take solace in the fact that once people get to know me and my true intentions, they do eventually come to love me. Anyway, as usual, I’ve digressed from the point I was trying to make.

I find myself in a similar situation where people have twisted my good intentions and given it an entire new meaning. I have been judged; assumptions have been made. I ordinarily wouldn’t give it a second thought. Part of the consequence of being so visible is that you will inevitably have people talk about you behind your back, especially if you’re dealing with a group of people where this is so embedded in their culture. I’m not happy with that but I’ve learned to deal with it.

However, there comes a point when ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

I am not perfect. I have many faults and I will be the first to enumerate and elaborate on them in great detail. However, I have always been a hard worker. I have always tried to be a kind person. I  do things because they’re right and because I genuinely feel it would help make things better, not because I want to take credit for something. In fact, one would say after college I have learned the art of humility. Pride cometh before the fall, after all. 

So when someone tries to undermine all that I’ve done by talking about me behind my back, when someone makes it personal, and if this someone has been a consistent thorn on my side for God knows what reason, I ask you dear readers, what is left for me to do? Turn the other cheek and find comfort in the thought that a lot of it is driven by jealousy? Yeah, maybe. There’s no satisfaction in taking the high road though. And the point is, there comes a time when people just need to be put in their place, otherwise you just become a doormat. A confrontation is looming, and I am damned ready for it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while you can’t please everybody, and that trying to explain yourself to people is an exercise in frustration (not to mention, pointless), there are times when you have to take a stand. The saying is right, you do have to choose your battles. I know that’s often quoted in the context of not fighting unnecessary battles BUT there comes a time when you have to realise that this is a battle you MUST fight. 

Have the courage to confront when you know you’re in the right. Enough is enough. 

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Waterstones Armchair Murders Book Club Pick of the Month: If We Were Villains

Full disclosure: I skipped through the end of this book because I just could not bear not knowing what happened for a minute longer.

I picked up this book because it was selected for next month’s book club meeting. Had I known that it had been frequently compared to Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, I may have hesitated to start it because I found that book as tedious as it was – strangely -compulsively readable. I found the characters in that book so unbelievably pretentious. And, I may be the stupidest person in the world for saying this, but I just did NOT get what all the latin translations contributed to the plot advancement. I did not understand why so many people found the book life-changing but agree to disagree.

This book could not have been any more different.

The thing I love and hate most about reading a book is when you become so invested in the characters that you share in their joys, hopes, disappointments and sorrows. M.L. Rio, almost from the first 50 pages, made me care so much about her protagonist Oliver Marks that I felt a genuine sense of foreboding when he began his story.

The Synopsis

Oliver has been in jail for the past 10 years and his release coincides with the retirement of the detective who took on his case. Wanting closure, the old detective’s final request is for the truth: what really happened during that cold November night when one of Oliver’s friends wound up dead in the lake? 

They were seven friends who shared one thing in common: an all-consuming passion for acting. And not just any acting; Shakespearean acting. Throughout their four years in an exclusive school for the arts they’ve been typecasted: the hero, the villain, the star, the sidekick, the vixen. But when a teacher decided to shake things up and change the status quo, the power shifts; friendships are threatened, rivalries awakened, secrets unraveled, ultimately ending in tragedy.

Oh, The Feels

I don’t think this will be the most coherent review I’ve ever done mostly because I’m writing with my heart rather than my head. All I am after this book is a mass of feelings. Honestly.  This book is more than just a crime novel; its a coming of age story, its an ode to the great bard and most of all its an epic, passionate romance. I know this is supposed to be a thriller, but honestly its LOVE that underscores all the scenes in this book. The kind of love that makes fools of us all, the kind of love that borders on insanity.
Oliver is the kind of character who just grabs you. There is no way to describe him without giving away spoilers because to understand how things turned out the way they were, to really understand his motives, you have to look at the heart of who he is. There are things that were so blindingly obvious to me as the book unfolded that I pretty much guessed whodunit early on. I don’t know if its just me but it really wasn’t that much of a mystery. 

The Twist

I really love a good ending. And a good ending for me is one that ties up all the loose ends; I do not like ending a book with more questions and I do not like to be kept hanging. But really, if done right, ambiguous endings have this impact on readers that cannot be put into words. And this one sure did a number on me. I have read and re-read the last two pages of this book five times and I’ve even googled Shakespeare to give me some clues but I’m still left with the need to rip my hair out because I really want to know what it all means.

I know that we’re meant to form our own conclusion as to the ending but dammit ML Rio, YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!!! 

I’m quite excited to go to book club now and discuss this with the others. I just really need someone to reaffirm my interpretation of the ending. That’s all I need, one person to tell me that the version of events unfolding in my head is not so far-fetched. It’ll be interesting to see how my fellow book club members will react to this. I have a feeling this may have a polarising effect on the group. It will sure make for an interesting discussion.

Hey bookworms in London, if you’re interested in discussing fabulous crime and mystery books, join us every first Wednesday of the month at Waterstones Piccadilly. Free wine! More details here.

Posted in Books, Careers, Feminism, Lifestyle, london, Reviews

Book Review: The Great Chick-Lit-A-Thon

I always think that people who abuse chick-lit as being all fluff and no substance has never had a week where you’ve used your brain so much that you just want to sit down for a day and not use up any more brain cells. That is what a chick lit is for. Its not unintelligent; in fact, I think it takes brains and talent to write a good chick lit. I don’t think it should even be called chick lit, that term is absolutely sexist. Yes, these books are written for and by women but I think men can learn a lot from them too (It certainly won’t hurt their E.Q. )

I will defend chick lits with my life. I think there comes a point in your year where you absolutely need a good escapist read. I think people who disparage these books as being so far from literature should get over themselves. Of course they’re not literature! One way to avoid going through life perpetually disappointed is to adjust your expectations. Take these books the way they were meant to be taken: they are pure, escapist enjoyment meant to be taken on a beach holiday and read for relaxation. Once in a while they provide a good social commentary and that is why this genre exists, because it is relatable AF.

Ok, I’ve said my piece. Let’s get to the review.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld

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Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books of all time (talk about literature!). I love it so much that I’ve seen both the tv and movie version at least 10 times;

I salivated over seeing Matthew McFadden walking down Soho and I’m still kicking myself for not having the balls to get his autograph. I’ve read every spinoff of the book that has ever been released, even trashy ones such as Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife and Elizabeth and Darcy. I even considered reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but stopped myself. So when I saw this book on a trip to Waterstones, I thought, why not?

Eligible is a modern retelling of the classic tale every woman out there (who hasn’t been living under a rock) loves. For the life of me, I cannot understand why out of all the bars and gin joints in the world Curtis Sittenfeld chose to set this story in Cincinnati. There could not be a less glamorous setting for a retelling. But I read on a review somewhere that the author came form Cincinnati so she’s probably killing two birds with one stone: writing about what she knows and shamelessly plugging her hometown.

Mr. Bingley (or Chip Bingley in this version) is an ER (A and E for those of us on this side of the Atlantic) doctor who was once a contestant in a reality show called Eligible, which I imagine to be something similar to The Bachelor. He went on it on the urging of his sister/manager Caroline and because he wanted to find love. At the end of it he just could not bring himself to choose from either of the finalists because he didn’t think what he had with them was real. He moved to Cincinnati and took a job at the University Hospital where his good friend Fitzwilliam Darcy was a bloody neurosurgeon (of course he is).

Liz and Jane are not the shy, innocent virgins that they were in the original version. In fact, Jane is nearly forty, a yoga instructor and has been trying to have a child through IVF for years. Liz is 38, works for a magazine and has been having an affair with her close friend, the married Jasper Wick (Mr Wickham) for a long time and has been stupidly in love with him for even longer. They are both called back to the family home when their father has a heart attack.

I found this to be a really clever retelling. The Bennets are just as ridiculous as in the original and Mrs Bennet clearly transcends generations, revisions and retelling because I found her just as overbearing and annoying. I think the book did a really good job of injecting modern issues while still keeping the theme of the original intact. And I guess that’s only to be expected because no matter how enlightened and progressive we believe ourselves to be as a society, marriage is still by-and-large a game. An eligible bachelor such as Chip Bingley is still eyed and sized by ambitious mamas out there to see if he’s the right fit for their daughters. I’ve talked about the pressure to be paired up and settled as you grow older in my previous blog and that’s hasn’t changed from when Jane Austen published her novel. The shelf-life of women has probably expanded a bit, but a woman in her 30s who is still single is still seen as an anomaly.

I like how this book tackles feminism and proposes the idea that to devote yourself to another person doesn’t mean having to give up being your own woman.

There’s a belief that to take care of someone else, or to let someone else take care of you—that both are inherently unfeminist. I don’t agree. There’s no shame in devoting yourself to another person, as long as he devotes himself to you in return.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable book.

My Not So Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella

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I used to love Sophie Kinsella when I was in college. When I moved to London I found it a little hard to read her books because I thought they were unrealistic. Living in London is fun but its incredibly tough. Not everyone gets the glamorous jobs in advertising; we don’t all have fun Friday nights where we do all kinds of quirky things. In short, its not as perfect as her novels seem to portray.

Which is why I love this one.

My Not So Perfect Life is a glaring reality check on what social media has done to us as a society, especially for the younger generation, the so-called millennials. I think that we’ve all always felt the pressure to be perfect: the perfect daughter, the perfect employee, the perfect woman. With the advent of social media, there is an added pressure to not just be perfect but to make sure that everyone else knows it. To be honest, I sometimes hate looking at social media feeds, especially when I’ve had a particularly tough day at work or if I’ve had to re-think my holiday plans because I just can’t afford it. I see my friends’ posts and they just seem to be on holiday all the time and I find myself thinking, how in the hell did they find the time and money to do all that? Or I look at other people’s blogs or vlogs and think, mine will never be as interesting as that, my life just isn’t that instagrammable.

Truly, don’t ever go on Facebook or Instagram if you’re not feeling good about your life. 

This book tells the story behind the social media posts. It dares to say that there’s a story behind every perfect post. People project what they want to project into the social media world because they feel the need to maintain an image. Not all of it is real. We shouldn’t lose sight of who we are just because we inspire to be instagrammable. We shouldn’t bend over backwards to make other people think life is perfect because guess what? No one’s life is perfect. Not even movie stars with their blogger poses. They go through their ups and downs the same way as we do, they probably just hide it better. And maybe they have more expensive drinks to process their grief, but grieve they do nonetheless.

I loved this book. I finished it in one sitting. At one point, I felt the need to book myself into a glamping campsite just to see what the experience is like.

I think this book has an important message, especially to the young women of today.

Whoever started the rumor that life has to be perfect is a very wicked person, if you ask me.

Life isn’t always instagram-perfect but you don’t want it to be. You are more than your social media feeds, you do not need to maintain an image. Be real, be you, be better than Facebook.

 I would definitely recommend both these books for people who are looking for a light easy read as we near the end of summer. Enjoy, bookworms! 

 

 

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Knight of The Seven Kingdoms

I cannot believe we’re down to two more episodes in the current season of Game of Thrones. What will I do with my Mondays now? I might actually need to think about work instead of whether or not my favourite character lives or dies! In fact, I might get so upset over the loss of GoT that I will do a dracarys on my way to the office and breathe fire over the good people of London.

Could it be any clearer that I am a huge Game of Thrones fan? 

I first watched this show on the recommendation of my good friend Katie. Well, I read the books first, and it really went into more detail than the series ever did which is probably part of the reason why I got so invested in the characters; I knew their backstory from the books. I wouldn’t compare the books to the series though because I think they’re equally good. There are things that the series has done, like making Robb Stark a more central character before his tragic demise, that I thought worked really well. 

Anyway, I ultimately finished the books and like many others I wait with bated breath for Winds of Winter to come, which from the sounds of it now seems like it will be thick enough to kill a full-grown rat. The tv series has overtaken the books though so I think that will be confusing, keeping all those storylines separate. But I can’t complain when we have episodes like ‘The Spoils of War‘ which is 40 minutes of television heaven. Plus having the R + L = J theory confirmed last season was one of the most gratifying moments in tv history. 

I bought A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms so that I would have something to do in between episodes and because I love everything that has to do with Westeros. I think George R R Martin has done a stupendous job of building this fantasy world with its own history, geography and legends. I mean, I would be just as satisfied reading about the events leading up to Robert’s Rebellion as I would be reading recent Westeros events.

By this time, all these names are as familiar to me as my own. Targaryen. Stark. Baratheon. Lannister. When I see them mentioned in this book, which takes place about 100 years before current GoT events, I get a little thrill. This book is actually a collection of 3 novellas telling the adventures of Dunk and Egg, also known as Ser Duncan the Tall and the future king himself Aegon V Targaryen. Aegon is Mad King Aerys’ father. He was so obssessed with having dragons in the world again that he burned down his palace in Summerhall around the same time that Rhaegar Targaryen was born. 

Ser Duncan is a hedge knight. I’m not sure what that is exactly but it seems like one step short of being a sellsword; a knight who sells his services to any lord. He meets a bald-headed purple-eyed boy in a tavern on his way to a tourney in Ashford. Unbeknownst to him this precocious boy is actually Aegon but he nicknames himself Egg. He unwittingly takes him on as his squire as he enters the tourney where, as fate would have it, Egg’s brothers and uncles are also competing. 

The stories that follow are rich in Westerosi history. Its funny with a touch of adventure and at time unexpectedly moving. Its even more moving when you consider the fact that Ser Duncan was with Aegon through his unexpected rise to the throne and served as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard all throughout his rein and until the end of both their lives (he too died in Summerhall). 

*all photos are taken from the book and are original works of the illustrator specified in the cover*


I didn’t think I’d get through this book so quickly. It took me ages to finish one GoT book (oh God, Clash of Kings was tedious) but it only took me a day or two to finish this one. The illustrations were lovely and helped a great deal. I can imagine reading this book to my children someday in the future. I loved Ser Duncan and his almost foolish sense of nobility (hello, Ned Stark) and I especially loved Egg. These books are a great addition to the world of Game of Thrones and I hope GRRM will live long enough to finish these tales and maybe even write about Rhaegar and Lyanna. I would love a romance novel set in this world, just saying. 

All in all, this was a great book and one I would recommend to any fan. 

Posted in Careers, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

My first week of being 30 and I’m surprisingly adjusting

I always knew 2017 was going to be difficult for me in terms of bearing the weight of society’s expectations. Two of my best friends got married this year, two had their first babies. Add the fact that I turn 30 this year and someone might as well be holding a ticking clock over my head (a ticking clock that sounds suspiciously like ba-bies, ba-bies, ba-bies, ova-ries to the sound of my mother’s voice). 

I spent so much time thinking about turning 30, almost as soon as I turned 29 in fact. I had grand plans: I made up a list of 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30 (of which I ultimately did maybe 5); I booked an annual leave for 2 weeks because I wanted to celebrate with a bang; I looked up flights to Vegas and Turkey and Santorini. I saw my 30th birthday as this looming deadline and I wanted to do anything and everything before this dreaded day arrives.


As always, reality got in the way; life – and living it- got in the way. I forgot all about my list. I forgot to be afraid of that arbitrary finish line that really only existed in my head. I got busy; I faced new challenges in my career, I was working towards getting my citizenship, I had extra curricular activities that needed my full attention and a blog to maintain. In short, I got busy living my life to be worried that it doesn’t measure up to everyone else’s.

And it was the best thing that could have ever happened.

A lot of people told me that 30, as cliche as it may sound, is really just a number. And its true. Your life doesn’t stop, or have to necessarily change, when you turn 30. Like, there are people who say you have to start thinking about settling and sorting out the future when you turn 30. I’ve been thinking about my future since I was 10. I’d like to think I have most of my life sorted, that I’m exactly where I want to be. But then again, if I don’t have my shit fully together, if there are still some things I’m figuring out, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should try to mininise living our lives by numbers. Marry at 25, 2 kids and a successful career by 30, a mortgage in 2 years – the truth is, there is no one life map that fits all. There is no timeline that you need to follow. You get married because you’ve genuinely found someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. You have kids because you find fulfillment in being a parent and because you’re ready. You buy a house because you have a family. And because you’re ready. You are not obligated to do all of these things because you’re 30.

That being said, turning 30 does mean that you have to have a certain level of maturity. There are things that I wish to be better at and while I don’t need to wait for my birthday each year to start doing them, it seems like as good a time as any to start. So I made a shortlist of things that I WILL do this year:

I will take better care of myself

The only thing that’s true about turning 30 is that you’re not as young as used to be, physiologically speaking. Your body and your health become more high maintenance as you get older, that’s just a fact. Which means I can no longer afford to have a chocolate binge after a stressful day at work (which is almost every day). My family has a history of high cholesterol and heart disease. I have yet to lose all the weight I gained in 2015 (and have continued to gain since). All of this ends starting today. I will make a more conscious effort to eat healthy and exercise at least 4x a week.

I will save more money

Some people think that the answer to every financial problem is to find a job that pays better. Its not. The answer lies in living within your means. Cut out things that are not strictly necessary. Do I really need to have an expensive meal every weekend? Do I need more books? Do I need more shoes? Can I afford to go on that holiday? I may not be sending any kid to school or saving for a mortgage, but I do need to save for the rainy days. This is something I need to take more seriously this year. 

Collect memories and experiences rather than things

In keeping with saving money, I need to be more selective about the things that I DO shell out for. Travelling is fine, buying a designer bag is not. I mean to each his own right? If owning a Prada bag makes you happy, more power to you. But I personally feel I should be investing in things that keep me sane, centred and happy on a higher level, not just materially. I am not going to suddenly become a minimalist (let’s be realistic) but I will try to be more careful about what I spend on. 

Simple 30th celebration at home. Birthdays are about spending it with the people who matter most. Thank you everyone for coming!
Finally joining the 30 and over club!

Do what you love and love what you’re doing

I know that having a stable job and a career becomes more important as you reach your 30s. Everyone seems to measure success by how far you’ve climbed the career ladder. I disagree. Having ambitions is all well and good; aspiring to a better position and a better pay – that’s all fine. But I think being happy at what you do, and still being able to have a life outside work, is the true measure of success. Its no secret that I turned down a high-paying, higher-ranking job offer last year because I didn’t think I’d make as much an impact and because I didn’t think it would make me happy. I would rather stay at a job that will make the most out of my skill set and that will give me fulfillment.

Don’t be afraid to try new things

Like I said, just because you’re no longer a teenager doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for new experiences. Besides, I was always a late bloomer so I’m pretty sure there are a lot more experiences to be had. I just need to stop being so scared all the time and just try. There are things that I’d like to try but have always been afraid of, but the only other thing that’s true about aging is that you have to take every chance and every opportunity because life IS short. 

Give dating another go.

Ah, everyone’s favourite question to a woman in her 30s. Why are you single? When are you planning to settle down and get married? I hate getting asked this question because it implies that there’s something wrong with being single in your 30s. Well, excuse me for being a little too busy to care. But. Lately I find myself thinking that maybe it IS time to get back to dating again. Not because society expects me to but because I want to. I gave myself a hiatus because I was so tired of all the bad dates and the dates that seemed to have gone well but always end up being a disappointment. I’ve kind of closed my mind to the idea of meeting someone because I was tired. I think its time to be open once again and just put the idea to the universe at large in the hopes that the universe will cooperate. 

The one thing I hate about dating is that you make yourself so vulnerable, and I hate making myself vulnerable to anything. I feel like I have this wall all the time because I don’t want to risk being hurt. If someone gets to close, I go ‘dracarys’ and blow that opportunity out of the water (lol, GOT reference!). I sometimes don’t even realise I’m doing it. I have to be better at being more open and less afraid.
Ah, my 30s. People say it only gets better from here and I’m quite hopeful that it will be. I will be stronger. I will be wiser. I will probably fail epically on some of the things I set out to do but I have never been a quitter, and I’m not about to start now. 

Happy 30th to me!