Posted in Books, Religion, Reviews

Book Review: Origin – Dan Brown

It’s weirdly fitting that I finished and am reviewing this book on Sunday, a day known to Christians the world over as the day of the Lord.

 

The premise of the book is quite simple and a little bit formulaic in my opinion. But hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Dan Brown has sold millions of copies of these Robert Langdon books that he should know by now that if you just stick to the plan, you’re good.

 

As per usual Robert Langdon is invited to an event, this time by his former student, Edmond Kirsch, an influential man who is renowned in the scientific world as a pioneer and a prophet. Edmond has promised to reveal a groundbreaking research that will rock the very foundation of religious belief. However, things take a sinister turn before he can do so and it is up to Robert, and inevitably a female companion, to search through the clues left by this enigmatic man so that his final discovery can be broadcasted to the world, facing challenges and threats to their existence along the way of course.

 

I’m not kidding when I say these books are formulaic: European city as a setting (Barcelona), art (Gaudi) the usual anti-religion tirade, symbols and clues, plot twists, heck, Robert’s female sidekick this time around – Ambra Vidal – is made out of the same mold as Vittoria, Sophie and that girl from Inferno (although we were spared the romantic undertones this time around, thank God. I don’t think Tom Hanks can handle any more romantic entanglements.)

 

 

 

There are so many themes to explore that I think I’ll just dive right into it. There will be minor spoilers along the way, although I’ll try to keep them to a minimum and readers will still get to enjoy the element of surprise brought about by a good plot twist, although I saw this one coming from a mile away.

Where did we come from?

This is the question that divides religion and science. Despite attempts to unify them and despite calls for us to see the hand of God behind scientific advancements, it seems like they can’t bridge the big divide of the question of where man came from. Of course, everyone is familiar with the story of Genesis and God creating Adam and Eve from his own likeness. Equally familiar is Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution: man’s journey from homo Habilis to Homo sapiens brought about by the survival instinct.

 

garden-of-eden-fall-of-manevolution-in-motion

 

One of our more enterprising teachers attempted to begin an intelligent and stimulating dialogue back when I was in high school by having us students debate these two theories. I think she greatly underestimated how fervent some people’s religious beliefs are and that some of the students will take things personally. Religion is a deeply personal thing. It forms a major part of your entire belief system and influences how you see and interpret the world. For most of us, religion is learned from a loved one and part of what keeps us believing in it is the influence of that loved one. For example, I may not necessarily have as strong a faith as I did when I was younger and I have come to believe that there is a big flaw in my belief system, but I still go to church every Sunday out of fear of disappointing my mum, who is deeply religious.

 

Anyway, the debate ended in fights and tears especially on the side of those who were for Creationism. I think someone did raise the question about whether you would prefer to believe you evolved from a chimpanzee or whether you’d rather believe you were a special creation of a divine being. This was over 15 years ago so I’ve forgotten which side I was on but I distinctly remember being able to see and understand both sides of the story and my eventual take on it is that we should all stop asking this inane question and just move on with our lives.

I mean, does it really matter where we came from? Shouldn’t it be enough that we exist and therefore should make that existence meaningful? So many debates raging and wars being waged over a pointless question. I agree with what one character in this book said, no matter what scientific discoveries people come up with, people will still cling to their faith because at the end of the day, everyone needs to believe in a higher power.

 

Religion versus Science

Religion is intangible. The bible itself praises people who “do not see and yet choose to believe”. Christianity requires a leap of faith and – paradoxically -a suspension of belief. We believe in a God who loves us so much that He gave us his only son, birthed through divine conception. This son, Jesus, then gave up his life on the cross to save us from our sins and was resurrected three days after and brought into heaven. Those are two of the mysteries of our faith that we’ve chosen to base our entire belief system on.

A scientific mind will just lose the plot when faced with this belief system because it just. doesn’t. make. any. sense. I agree. Its got plot holes the size of the hole on the ozone layer. The entire system can be destroyed by a few questions and all we’re inevitably left with is our faith. Science, and the scientific method, meanwhile is based on facts and experiments. Its based on research and results that are tangible and reproducible. So when scientists discover something that directly contradicts religion, it’s a big deal because you know they will be armed with facts to back up their claims, like the theory of evolution.

I don’t know, really. I don’t understand the war between religion and science because I think there’s room for both to co-exist in the world. I think the world needs both in equal amounts. Take medicine, for example. I am both a Catholic and a medical personnel and I am able to reconcile both my faith and my medical knowledge when I deal with my patients. When a family member is sick, I find myself both recommending drugs and treatment that I think will help and keeping them in my prayers. When I found out my dad had high PSA levels (one of the indicators of prostate cancer) I spent one day researching all there is to know about it and then spent the night praying the rosary. I don’t see the disparity or the divide.

I remember being deeply offended one day when a surgeon I was working with said that religion is for the weak. I disagree. Yes, from a certain narrow-minded perspective it may seem as if some people use religion as a crutch because they can’t bear to take responsibility for their own destinies. But equally, there is something beautiful about how it is also used as a moral compass to temper man’s often irresponsible foray into things he’s not ready for.

 

Where are we going?

During his big reveal, Edmond said that the question of where we came from is not as important as where he thought we were going. I am heading into spoiler territory so do stop reading if you’ve not read the book yet. Although I think this won’t change your reading experience, I have to post an obligatory

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

Anyway, apparently Edmond’s experiments and his work on a super-computer has allowed him to predict man’s future and he predicts that in 50 or so years, man as we know it would be extinct and a whole new race will take over. According to Edmond technology will eventually consume man, pacing the way for a “new and better race of human beings”.

Now, this is clearly Dan Brown’s way of admonishing the current society’s obsession with technology and its true, in a way. Everything we need, we can access at the touch of our fingers. Need information? Find it on google. Need directions? Use the maps on your phone. Need to tell the world something new about yourself? Post a status on Facebook. Need to contact your mum from halfway around the world? Call her on FaceTime. Bombs can now be triggered remotely. There is a theory that we are entering a new dawn where technological warfare will replace traditional warfare. The advancement of technology can now be measured in terms of years instead of decades. Apple comes up with a newer, bigger, better and more advanced smart phone every year and it needs to do so in order to stay one step ahead of its competitors.

In a sense, the world is moving too fast that this plot twist really didn’t surprise me as much. One thing I found really clever is that, if you really pay attention, the book’s narrative and action was really in keeping with this theme of technology taking over. For example, Robert Langdon I felt played less of a role here because he had someone (or something) else doing the work for him (you’ll notice this if you read the book). Even the central mystery being solved was in keeping with this theme.

 

Despite that, it’s still the little things…

I was quite ready to give this book a negative review. I found it to be too long and I never really engaged with the story the way I did with what I still argue is Dan Brown’s best work (Angels and Demons). However, it was the little pockets of human interaction amidst all the chaos and startling new ideas that really turned the tide for me: a father’s love for his son, a son’s wish to live up to his father’s expectations, the thrill of falling in love and the purest love between two people who were destined to never share their feelings to the world because their world is not ready for it yet. But there is hope that one day it will be.

Again, I don’t know if this contrast was intentional but I, for one, found it really poignant. It’s in keeping with the message of the book I guess, that the human capacity for tolerance and compassion will keep us from being overrun by the dangers of powerful technology and that is what keeps Edmond Kirsch hopeful about the future.

 

….and finally.

I know this is a pretty long review, I apologise but it is a rather long book (again, this is one of my major complaints about this. Find a better editor, Danny boy!) but it’s certainly worth reading, especially if you’ve been a fan all these years.

My advice is to take everything with a pinch of salt. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what other people tell you anyway. You believe what you believe and you are entitled to that. Live and let live, people.

 

Happy Sunday, blabbaholics and bookworms alike!

 

 

Posted in Food, london

Food Tripping: Authentic Naples Pizza in London

Fun fact: modern pizza originated in Naples. 

Another fun fact: the Pizza Margerita was created for the Queen Consort of Italy, Margerita of Savoy. The original toppings were mozarella, tomato and basil and these were meant to represent the colours of the Italian flag.

Growing up in the Philippines, I was exposed to the American (bastardized) version of pizza. The crust was thicker and the toppings more varied (and weird, like pineapple). It wasn’t until I came to the UK and had the chance to travel that I had the opportunity to try “real” pizza.

Everyone who knows me know that I love everything about Italy: the food, the language, the places to visit and the people. Some of my closest friends in the world are Italian. Which is probably why I often find myself talking with hand gestures (it just allows you to express yourself better, to be honest! Hahaha).

Ive been to different parts of Italy about four or five times now and it never gets old. However, I’ve never been to Naples. But yesterday, my two Italian friends and colleagues decided to bring me to a place in London that sells authentic Naples pizza. We had a long long day at work (three REVISION hip replacements, about 70 heavy sets to organise, quick turnover, high stress levels) and we needed to de-stress. So off we went from Warren Street to the heart of Chelsea. 

Chelsea is an area I don’t really visit very often, I’ve always stayed more North of the river but there are some great places to eat in Chelsea and the food was cheaper than I thought it would be. Anyway, the place we ate at was called Santa Maria. The restaurant had a really casual and relaxed feel to it. We arrived at about 9pm and were able to get a table without any trouble. My friend Gian says its better to come a bit late because otherwise we’d be queuing for our table.

I was already excited looking at the menu. For starters, we had this soft mozarella dish that I’ve now forgotten the name of (I know it starts with a B) and it was so delicious I felt like I was having a religous experience. 

Best served with a glass of peroni, in my own personal opinion

Just as an aside: I love cheese. I think cheese makes any dish taste better, there is no dish that cannot be improved by cheese. When I was in Rome, I got told off by one of the restaurant owners because I wanted to add parmesan to my seafood risotto. You DO NOT, apparently, add cheese to seafood, its just wrong. You can just imagine the italian accent and the passionate hand gestures when he was telling me off. 

Anyway, the real star of the night was the pizza. My one real failure is that I tend to be safe and conservative when choosing my pizza toppings. I really should be more adventurous and try new things (in all aspects of my life that probably applies!) but I always seem to want to stick with what I know best. I had the Santa Carmela pizza which is pizza with tomato sauce, mozarella, parma ham and basil. It was really delicous, not to mention massive. 



Look at all that cheesy goodness! 





Anyway, I now think that the secret to pizza is to keep things simple. And if you ask my Italian friends, it is important to use Italian ingredients. I reckon after this I may never have Domino’s and Pizza Hut ever again. 

Anyway, this is one of the reasons why I love living in London and having a diverse circle of friends. You just learn so much about other cultures and traditions and you can only gain from their perspective because oftentimes its so different from your own. The cuisines are just a plus, its the company that really matters. Thank you friends for bringing me here! 

Santa Maria is about a 10-minute walk from Fulham Broadway if anyone wants to try their pizza. Cheers! 

Posted in Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle

The Bare Necessities and how I realised that Health IS Wealth

A colleague of mine recently had to miss work for a week because he was extremely unwell. He works so hard: he shows up for work an hour before we’re meant to be there to make sure he’s ready for the day; when you’re working with him, you always know you’re safe because he has so much experience and you know that he knows what he’s doing; he has the highest standards and does not suffer fools (or laziness); he’s at work so much that people joke that he should change his post code to our place of employment.

It made me think about our motivations and what drives us to work as hard as we do. For him, he does it to support his family. He’s recently realised his dream of bringing his entire family to the UK, to provide his children with all the opportunities that would have otherwise been unavailable to them had they stayed in the Philippines. That cost a lot of money, and in his own words, they’re currently broke but they’re all broke together. 

For a lot of people, money is the biggest motivator. Let’s face it, love may make the world go round but you need cash to grease the wheels. Its kinda difficult to keep mushy feelings going if your roof is leaking because you have no money for repairs, or if you’re living off bread and beans every day.

I know a lot of people who work at least 60 hours a week just to earn extra money. Heck, I’ve done it and I often don’t recognise myself at the end of a 60-hour work week. I think we never stop to think about the impact it has on us when we work as hard as we do. We are not machines; in fact, even machines have down-time. There are times when we – human beings – DON’T. And in a stressful environment like nursing, that can have serious consequences.

Work is physically demanding, no doubt about that. I am on my feet 80% of the time, even when I’m supposed to be doing admin work. By necessity – because of the nature of our job – our brain goes into overdrive most of the time. In addition, you give so much of yourself to care for your patients and to work harmoniously with your colleagues that the work also becomes an emotional drain. Now imagine experiencing that for 60 hours per week. Is it any wonder that people get sick?

I think we need to take better care of ourselves. I think we all need to remember that money and career are no substitutes for physical, mental and emotional well-being. I guess its one of the hazards of the world that we live in. We’ve become too enamored of material things that we’ve forgotten the bare necessities (the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife), such as health and simple freakin’ joy. Do you really need the latest iPhone X and is it worth forking over almost a thousand pounds? Do you need that Burberry trench coat so badly that you’ll run yourself ragged to buy it? Do you really need to be trying London’s trendiest restaurant every Friday night? 

I guess I’m writing this blog as a reminder to myself. My favourite sushi place sells a box called Health and Happiness and I think I’m coming to realise that health IS happiness and like happiness, its a choice that you have to make every day. Don’t be blinded by the bling, or the craving to buy a Prada bag you don’t actually need, or the zeroes you want to see in your bank account. All of that means nothing if you’re bedridden for a month because you’ve worked yourself to the bone. Health is happiness and health is wealth. Let’s do ourselves a favour and take care of ourselves more than we take care of our bank account. 

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult

Book Review: The Mortal Instruments Series – Cassandra Clare

I’ve been on Goodreads long enough to know that one of its golden rules is that thou shall never judge a book by another member’s review. Although I sometimes make the decision to read or not read a book based on the community’s rating/s, I try not to be put off by negative reviews,  especially if a book’s blurb sounds particularly interesting.

There are a lot of negative things about Cassandra Clare on the internet. Apparently, she was involved in some scandal a few years ago because of a Draco Malfoy fanfiction plagiarism accusation which led her to be banned from a fanfiction website. I’m not too clear on the details, but allegedly, huge parts of ‘City of Bones’ is lifted off the material in question so people were outraged when it went on to sell millions (plus movie and television adaptations). 

I personally don’t understand why she’s being singled out for something that seems like common practice to me (I’m looking at you EL James). I am not trying to defend plagiarism, I think there’s nothing worse than an author trying to pass off plagiarised content as original material. But take 50 shades of Grey for example. That started out as Twilight fanfiction didn’t it? The similarities were painfully obvious; if you take away the BDSM and add the sparkly vampire element, the basic structure of both series is the same. It still made EL James a household name (and suddenly made it acceptable to be reading about S and M). 

I can see why people would think that The Mortal Instrument series is some kind of fanfiction for Harry Potter. 

1. Valentine Morgenstern – obsessed with the purity of Nephilim bloodlines is almost a reincarnation of Voldemort

2. The Circle – Valentine’s followers who repented and renounced him when he presumably died is the nephilim equivalent of the Death Eaters

3. Mundanes – the Nephilim’s term for the human race. Mundanes = Muggles?

4. Jace Wayland – I personally find it hard to believe that he’s based on Draco Malfoy. I think he’s much more developed as a character. Physically, okay, he’s also got blond hair but that’s it. Or is Jace meant to be Harry Potter? 

Actually, the further on that the book series progressed, the less I felt like I was reading fanfiction. Its unfair to think that one author is copying off another simply because there are similarities. I think its hard to come up with a truly original concept in fantasy fiction. You inevitably come across a variation of a theme that’s already been explored in some other book. That doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t deserve some credit for the book itself if the book happens to be GOOD.

I fully agree that Cassandra should just own up to her shady past, because the truth is, these books are absolutely brilliant. They don’t deserve all the negativity surrounding them because they actually contain original content, in my own humble opinion. In addition, if I think about all the things that make a fantasy series great, I find that a lot of those things can be found in these series and more besides.

1. World Building – I think Cassandra Clare did such a good job of building the Shadow World, especially with regards to the history of the shadowhunters, family legacies, notable Downworlders (vampires, werewolves and warlocks), immortals who have directly or indirectly affected current events. There’s even a tie-in to the prequel series (which I’m only just starting to read).

2. The idea that no matter how different we are, we are all the same and we need each other so that good triumphs over evil. I am a sucker for these kind of storylines. 

3. A hero’s journey – Clary Fray and Jace Wayland both literally go to hell and back to triumph over evil and they discovered a lot of things about themselves along the way.

4. No one is born good or evil. It all comes down to choice. You see this a lot in fantasy series and there’s a reason for that. I believe that the things that happen to you don’t shape who you are, its the choices and decisions you make that make you who you are.

5. Runes tattooed onto a shadowhunter’s body that serves as a source of power.

6. Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane. Enough said. These two should have their own series.

7. Simon Lewis, an ordinary mundane who got sucked into the shadow world just because he’s in love with his best friend Clary, and ended up playing a more vital role than anyone could have predicted.

8. Plot twists and secret histories. I love love love plot twists. I think some of tbe plot twists in the. book should have been explored more in the tv series but I supposed when you’re uncertain about whether its gonna be picked up for another season you should cram as much in one season as you can and leave off some of the other plot devices. But I hope there’s a flashback episode somewhere in the Shadow Hunter tv series future.

9. The Silent Brothers. They turn out to be so much more intriguing than I thought they were.

10. The parabatai concept. A parabatai is someone who grew up and trained with you and with whom you share such a special connection with. It is a bond as strong as marriage and if your parabatai dies, a part of you dies as well. Together, you are better fighters than if you are apart. The catch? You can’t ever fall in love with your parabatai (they’re usually same sex, and except for Jace and Alec for obvious reasons, this was never a problem before!). I really think a whole series should be devoted to exploring the parabatai bond. 

So, I have gone on and on about what I love about this series, enough for you bookworms to know that if your trust me, you should buy all six books right now. Seriously, Amazon sells all 6 for the bargain price of £12. Click here to buy!  I really think fans of YA and fantasy will get into this. Or I could be wrong.

Cheers bookworms! 

Posted in Careers, london, Self-Discovery

Adulting 101

Let me just state for the record that there are times when I absolutely hate being an adult. Sometimes I find myself longing for the days when all my problems can be solved by a pint of ice cream and reassurance from mum and dad that everything will be alright.

You get a real appreciation for and understanding of your parents as you grow up I think. You begin to see that a lot of the time, adulting is simply about winging it. You fake it and hope to God you make it. As much as you try to use logic and as much as you try to weigh your options before making a decision, a lot of the time you make decisions on a leap of faith. All you can do is pray that you make the right one.

I suck at making decisions. Partly that comes from my desire to have everything. I find it hard to accept that in order to go for something I want, I have to give up something in return. I’m also really afraid of change. I’m the kind of person that gets attached to people, places and things. I’m incredibly sentimental. I remember when I was young (and stupid), my crush gave me a box of chocolate crinkles all wrapped up with a ribbon on top. I think I kept the box and ribbon for about 2 years and cried over it when, as puppy love tends to do, things didn’t work out.

This isn’t a post about puppy love, forgive me for digressing. 

The point is that I get incredibly attached. But sometimes attached is just another word for stagnant. Or stuck. And there comes a time when you have to think about what you really want out of life, and where you see your future going. I’m now in a position where I can think about settling in London and making a life for myself in this city. Its challenging, especially in terms of having a career and managing your finances. Its important to love your job but what I’ve learned is that its also important to keep moving forward. There are a lot of opportunities out there if you have the courage to go for it. And practically speaking, you also need a job that pays the bills.

(If it were up to me, I would be a bookseller at Waterstones, to be honest. But sadly that career path is not in the cards for me.)

This isn’t a very coherent post and its very much a reflection of my mental state of mind. I haven’t been able to blog much because I’ve been confused about the direction that I’m going to take my career (and life) in. I’ve had to weigh whether what I gain is worth giving up something (or someone lol) that I really love. I’ve also found myself questioning whether I have what it takes for me to take that leap, whether I’m ready for such a big step and this is when I usually find myself listening to Miley sing The Climb.

If I think about it from a sensible and logical point of view, I think I already know what decision I’m going to make; at this point, its all a matter of taking the steps to get my heart to accept what my brain already knows. I really really hope that I’m doing the right thing not just for me, but also for my family (and my future family!). As soon as I make the decision and take that irrevocable step, I can resume blogging and doing my book reviews, hopefully soon.

Until then, wish me luck guys.