Posted in Travel

Switzerland Is Sweeter The Nth Time Around

Shortly before Christmas one of my surgeons asked me where I’d be celebrating the holidays and I answered guilelessly that I’d be going to Switzerland. He was rendered speechless for all of 5 seconds before asking me if I was secretly a millionaire.

People think of Switzerland as this uber expensive, ultra-posh country where the rich and famous go on ski holidays. But for me, Switzerland has always been my home away from home. My nearest relative, apart from my sister, lives in Switzerland and she would always welcome me with open arms whenever I’d get the notion to escape London for a while.

I remember one time I was having a horrendously bad week at work, culminating in a Friday where I had a horrific row with the surgeon I was working with. It was a sure sign of how overworked I was because my composure around orthopaedic surgeons is usually unflappable.

Anyway, I cancelled all my bank shifts because I told our coordinator I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown (haha) and booked an EasyJet flight to Zurich. Its become something of a running joke between that surgeon and I actually (we eventually made up, sort of).

So yeah, going to Switzerland is like going home. My cousin is awesome at all things household-related and stepping into her home is like stepping into a bed and breakfast. Her cooking is awesome; when she visited me for my 30th birthday I must have gained a good 3kilos because of all the scrumptious home-cooked meals I was being treated to.

For the holidays, my mum and my cousin’s mum came over to visit, and because the UK requires a separate visa (apart from the Schengen visa) for tourists wishing to come visit, my sister and I decided that it’d be better for us to go to Switzerland instead.

I really really needed the time away from London. I don’t think I could have withstood another couple of days of watching myself mope around the house. I was starting to annoy myself with how pathetic I was being over (of all things) a guy. Of course, I did a lot of moping in Switzerland as well but at least it was moping with a view. Lol

I’ve been to the Rhine Falls several times – its an obligatory stop when you visit Switzerland -and its never failed to lift my mood. There is just something so satisfying about being able to see and be one with nature after months and months of living with the relentless pace of the concrete jungle that is London (no, Hyde Park doesn’t count).

Getting to spend time with Mum was an added bonus. I love my Mum. There is something to be said about a woman who will still rub Vicks on her sick 30-year-old daughter because she’s coughing so badly that she can’t sleep (yeah, I was unwell for most of this trip). Check out my very youthful and lovely mum!

The Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch were every bit as good as I expected it to be, so good in fact that I went on my annual post-christmas 3k guilt run just to help burn off all those extra calories (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t enough but whatever).

So yeah, it was a very Merry Christmas indeed and I’m pretty sure I’m over whatever funk I was in a couple of weeks ago. A change in scenery was just what the doctor ordered.

Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas holiday, blabbaholics! 😘

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough

I’m sorry but this is not going to be the most coherent of reviews. My emotions after reading this book and its ending can be summed up in three words:

My apologies for the expletive but there can be no other reaction to this utter mindf***of a novel. I cannot believe that the author actually went there. Towards the end, I wasn’t actually sure what kind of novel I was reading; the only thing I was sure about was that the characters in this book are all totally batshit crazy.

Mild spoilers ahead people! 

Okay so it starts out as a normal thriller. Lonely divorcee Louise meets rich, handsome married psychiatrist and has an affair with him. The other complication? She also strikes up a friendship with his beautiful wife Adele. As she gets entangled in their complicated marriage and the secrets of their past, Louise finds herself unsure of who she can trust. Her lover who has violent tendencies but seems to be so gentle when he’s with her? Or her new best friend who seems to only want what’s best for her?

I honestly don’t know how to even write this review. As I power read through the chapters I find myself growing more and more confused; at one point I thought for sure that this was going to be like John Cusack in Identity and that they were all really one person with one hell of a  multiple personality disorder and a clusterf*** of a life. I could not understand where the author was going with the narrative. This book’s whole marketing campaign had apparently been all about the “twist” and how it had “the most shocking ending you’ll read all year”.

Well, let me tell you something about that ending. 

Fine, okay. It managed to get a reaction out of me. My mind was completely blown, I can’t deny that. But if I think too hard about it, it doesn’t actually make any sense! And what’s even stranger is that in a weird sort of way, after you think about it a little more, it kind of does make a little bit of sense. I can’t explain it without giving it away but its the kind of twist that will generate a lot of discussion and will surely polarise readers; some will hate it, others will go gaga over it. I’m not a huge fan of it myself, but it sure added layers to the story and if you suspend belief for one second (or more) it does kinda grow on you.

Okay, there’s more to review than just the ending. There are some themes in this novel that number among my least favourite literary tropes. Infidelity, for example. I have really strong feelings about cheating and I think that there’s never any justification for breaking your marital vows. At the same time I’ve always been determined not to judge other people who have extra-marital affairs mostly because, having never faced that kind of situation myself, I can never fully say how I would react to the prospect of an affair with a married man. Love and lust can make you do crazy things after all.

And there it is. At the heart of this crazy, strange and utterly psychotic story is the fact that love for another human being can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. Think about a mother who would give her life for her child, or a friend donating a kidney to a dying friend; love is at the heart of all those things, and when that love becomes all-consuming, when the other person becomes the one thing you see and value to the exclusion of everything else (even yourself) I think that’s when love becomes dangerous.

On a slightly lighter note, I think that this novel is also a cautionary tale that people should just MIND THEIR OWN DAMN BUSINESS. Some of the things that Louise did in this novel made me cringe. I mean come on, there’s busybody and intrusive, and then there was Louise in this story. Her reactions to certain situations were so annoying that I was screaming at the book as if I could get through to her. I mean there are a lot of things that I would do for a friend but she’s crossed so many lines in this book that I cannot even begin to describe it. And Louise is supposed to be the sane and sensible one in this story. That tells you a lot about how crazy the other characters are.

Anyway, to read this book and enjoy it you just have to be prepared to take it as it is and not dissect the hell out of it. Its escapist reading at its finest certainly, and it will sure take your mind off your problems at work or the flu you’re nursing (or your broken heart). I almost wish we could have picked this for book club meeting next month because I can already imagine the kind of fiery debate that this book will generate. But alas, this choice was vetoed by other members. I’m still thankful to the book club members who recommended this to me, though. I can’t say that I’m totally happy with it, but I sure enjoyed it enough to finish it in only 6 hours.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars because okay, that ending was actually good the more I think about it. Lol. Kudos to the author for thumbing her nose at naysayers and just going for the unexpected, no matter what!

Get this book for a good price on Amazon by clicking on the image below.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light – VE Schwab

When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming a published author; I dreamed of writing stories that would take readers to another place and allow them to escape reality if only for a little while. I dabbled at fiction writing at the age of 16, and for as long as I can remember I make one attempt every year to write the stories that are in my head. But every time I tried to put words to a page, the stories I write end up being semi-autobiographical. I realise that I’m merely tweaking elements of my own life and I’m really just writing 10 different versions of the life of Angela.

I’ve not given up on my dream of being a published author yet, but I’ve come to the sad conclusion that my view of the world is just too linear (not to mention self-referential, its really all about me! lol) for me to ever write fiction. I don’t have the kind of imagination that will translate into fantasy and adventure stories. I am grateful however, that there are people in this world who do have that kind of imagination and I feel honoured to be able to review their work.

A Conjuring of Light is the kind of book that makes me feel sorry for people who claim to have no time to read books. They miss out on so much by depriving themselves of the written word, like this story of magic, friendship, adventure, loyalty and love. This epic conclusion to the Shades of Magic trilogy lives up to the promise of the first two books, and ends it in the most satisfying way possible.

It begins immediately where A Gathering of Shadows left off, with Kell – and by extension, Rhy – fighting for his life in White London after he is lured to a trap by a dark force calling himself Osaron. Osaron invades Red London in the worst way, stealing into the minds of its people and corrupting the magic that has always made Red London special.

Fighting against this evil is a small band of people led by Kell, Rhy,  Lila, the “traitor” Antari Holland, Captain Alucard Emery and other members of the Royal Family, especially the King himself, who used to be called “The Steel Prince” because of his prowess in the battlefield. They are also helped by the priests of the kingdom who help to build wards around the palace so that Osaron cannot reach the people within.

Conjuring-of-Light-feature-809x538

In searching for a way to stop Osaron, our heroes go through both a metaphorical and literal journey. They sail the high seas for an ancient weapon that will contain Osaron’s power, and they also search the strength within themselves to resist the pull of Osaron’s power.

I really really really love this book. I have raved about the world-building so many times in my previous reviews that I know I’m starting to sound redundant. But there is just something so special about the world that VE Schwab has created; even when its encased in darkness it just feel so alive. I’ve read somewhere that the movie rights to this book have already been purchased and I hope to God that whoever directs the cinematic adaptation of this novel will do it justice.

The only thing more special than the world-building is the character development. This book is truly anchored by each character’s relationship to the other. The bond between Rhy and Kell is still one of the most poignant aspects of this trilogy, and the scenes between them brought tears to my eyes. The relationship between Rhy and Captain Alucard brought tingles to my palms (always a good sign) because hey, I’ve always had a thing for second-chance romance.

Lila and Kell’s relationship was a delight to read because it just felt so natural and organic. There was no need for convoluted plot devices specifically designed to bring them together, they just fell into each other so effortlessly that they were in love before they – or the reader – was aware of what was happening. It was like they just said, “oh hello, there you are. You’ve been there all along”. Le sigh.

The real revelation if this book is Holland, the Antari from White London who we all thought was dead in the first book. Imprisoned for being a traitor, and for being the one to bring Osaron into the world in the first place, in this third book we get his backstory and we gain a little more understanding of him as a character – his motives, his fears and, perhaps most painful of all, his hopes. In the end, I would like to think he redeemed himself and was finally able to find the peace that was denied from him for so long.

There are so many fantasy elements woven into this story that fans of the genre will salivate over: magical objects, the question of immortality, an undead army and so on. However, VE Schwab always underscores the very real point that we all have the capability to do evil within us, even without the influence of magic or darkness. Its greed, jealousy and the lack of honour that makes men and women do dishonourable things, and that’s not fantasy – just human nature.

I won’t lie, certain parts of this book are heartbreaking but also necessary. I guess its unrealistic to expect that all our favourite characters will come through this ordeal safe and unscathed, but the ending proves that all the sacrifices were worth it. In the end, we are left with a world that’s bent but not broken, and the promise lies in the fact that what’s left of the rubble is made of stronger stuff.

All in all, this book deserves a place in the fantasy genre for its stupendous world-building, on-point characterisation and witty dialogue. The writing is sharp and crisp and there’s not one scene that feels like a filler; every scene is necessary to propel the story to its inevitable conclusion. At the hands of its very capable author,  the book doesn’t lose momentum even for an instant, but rather keeps all of us readers at the edge of our seats, waiting for what will happen next. I would strongly recommend it to fans of the fantasy genre.