Posted in Books, murder mystery, relationships, Young Adult

Book Review: One of Us Is Lying – Karen McManus

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I freaking love being right!

So I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while now and I bought it because its meant to be like a retelling of one of my favourite films in the world: The Breakfast Club.

But apart from the fact that five people who could not be any more different from each other, and who come from different high school cliques, suddenly find themselves in detention one afternoon, this book is NOTHING like that touchy-feely, feel-good 80s classic. Because five people go into detention and only four people make it out alive.

No one’s dancing on the library steps in this movie. Except for me, because I freaking solved this mystery halfway through the book. I dismissed it at first because it seemed far-fetched, and things kept cropping up that made me think another person did it, so I got a little bit sidetracked and confused. So when I got to the inevitable twist and the big ending, and it turned out I was right on so many levels? HAPPY DANCE.

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I am very selective about the YA books I read because I find that the older I get, the less patience I have for the unnecessary, pointless and ridiculous teenage angst that seems to make its way into a lot of these books. The cliches really push my buttons, and I feel like some of these books don’t give teenagers the credit they deserve.

This book sets itself apart from the rest by tempering the adolescent drama with humour, wit and most of all, intelligence. The main characters were really likeable. It heightens the sense of dread you feel when you’re reading the book because you really couldn’t imagine any one of the Bayview Four killing their classmate. I really felt like my heart would break if it turned out one of them did it.

I wanted to flip through the ending just to put myself out of my misery, but I resisted. 

This isn’t a lighthearted book, my friends. It has murder in it, but more than that it exposes all the ways that people can be so thoughtless of how they treat other people, and the devastating consequences that follow. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: teenagers are some of the most cruel group of people in the world, and high school can be a very dangerous place.

Think about it. An entire population of hormonal, confused and angst-ridden kids all gathered in one place? Its a disaster waiting to happen. Who ever thought that this was a great idea? I’ve lived through high school, and while I made it through unscathed, you could not pay me enough to go back there again.

I guess, apart from the incredibly riveting murder-mystery that is the central plot of this book, this is also a social commentary of what happens when we insist on using labels to identify people: the jock, the brain, the princess, the rebel and the outcast. Why does it have to be so definite and one-dimensional?

Why can’t the princess be smart? Why can’t the jock be rebellious? I think that human beings are capable of having so many different facets to their personality and doing so many things at one time, that putting them in the tight confines of a box that’s labelled with just one thing is the real crime.

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Social media just adds fuel to the fire too. I mean, back in MY day (God, I feel so old), you only have to worry about people whispering about you in the hallways of school. Now, any thing you do could be all over the internet in an instant, with one click of a Submit button. And it will be there for the world to see.

Sometimes I think technology, and certainly Facebook, has made a profit off making our lives miserable. And yet there we are, most hours of the day, logged on and being willing slaves to Mark Zuckerberg’s invention.

Anyway, the book does end on a positive and redemptive note. It was a very satisfying read for me even though I figured out most of the plot twists. It was good writing and good storytelling, and this isn’t a book that I will forget any time soon. Well done, Karen McManus.

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Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Blue Afternoon – William Boyd

 

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One Tuesday morning, one of my favourite surgeons randomly said to me “So Angie, I never knew that the at one point the Philippines was at war with America.” I thought to myself that this was an incredibly odd topic to bring up out of the blue. I had no idea where this came from and where he was going with this statement.

It turned out he’d read a book by William Boyd that was set in the Philippines around the time that the country was under the rule of the US government, and he recommended that I put this book in my massive to-read pile because he was sure I’d find it interesting. I was curious enough to look it up on Goodreads, and I became convinced that I should read this book when I found out it was a love story.

I was under the impression that this was going to be another one of those war books that people seemed to like so much. In my head, I imagined scenes similar to Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale on Pearl Harbour and it would be all angsty and heartbreaking.

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Cue tears and boxes of Kleenex. 

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It soon became clear that this was in no way similar to Pearl Harbour. Sure the premise seemed to follow the pattern of romance novels set in that era. Daughter meets her long-lost biological father and ends up helping him in his quest to find his long-lost love.

With nothing to go on but rumours and an old photograph, they set out for Portugal in the hopes of a happy reunion and along the way, this epic love story was told to the daughter in retrospect. I thought for sure that I already knew where this was going. I was so smug in my belief that the ending to this novel was a foregone conclusion.

How very wrong I was. 

Warning, there will be spoilers ahead! 

To my everlasting surprise, this novel had mystery, passion, deception, intrigue and yes, a bit of romance if one stretches one’s imagination enough to call infidelity and faking your own death romantic. 

This wasn’t a story about love so much as it is a story about desire and the lengths someone would go to in order to satisfy that desire. I’m sorry, but the hopeless romantic in me still believes that love is not love if you can’t shout it out on the rooftops, and that when it’s right it should be easy. This pairing was neither right nor easy and it certainly wasn’t love.

So yeah, the love story wasn’t what I expected it to be. The good thing is, though, that this book had a lot of things going for it that kept me turning the pages even when I was so exhausted from work.

First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever read a published international novel that was set entirely in the Philippines. I’m glad we’re getting that level of exposure as a country and that our history is being discovered by people who read William Boyd.

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I often think its a shame that we don’t make enough of a point of sharing our vast, colourful and interesting history. We don’t make enough of an effort to invest in museums that show the world what we’ve gone through as a nation and as a people. They can and should make a large-scale Hollywood movie out of it, in my own totally unbiased opinion.

The description of the setting was also authentic and incredibly atmospheric. It felt like I was transported to Manila in the  turn of the century and watching the sun set over Manila Bay. I had the sudden urge to fly home and explore the remnants of the walled city of Intramuros.

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Sunset over Manila Bay. Photo credits to Pinterest as I’ve actually never been here myself. I KNOW. SHAME ON ME. 

The other thing I liked, and which should not have surprised me given that it was a surgeon who recommended this book, was that it showed the evolution of medicine in the Philippines.  The nurse in me found this all very interesting. Medicine and surgery play a central and pivotal role in this story, and my inner geek was shouting with glee when I realised just how pivotal a role it played.

Anyway, I’ve blathered on for far too long when all I really wanted to say was that I really liked this book and I’m glad I gave it a shot. I wasn’t sure about the author’s writing style initially, but it grew on me because the plot was just so damn interesting. There were a lot of unanswered questions at the end, and to be honest the ending was ambiguous as hell. But that’s part of its charm I suppose.

I really recommend this book to anyone but most especially for people like me who might miss home every now and then. 

Cheers bookworms! xx

 

Posted in bloggers, Writing

A Year In the Life of A Wannabe Blogger

I received an email alert recently telling me that my WordPress membership account has been automatically renewed for another year. I didn’t even realise its been that long since I resurrected this site. So much has happened since, that I just wanted to reflect on this past year and what it means for me to be a so-called blogger.

I was very hesitant over giving this a real go. For one thing, I didn’t know where I’d find the time. Between a demanding career, an active social life and the never-ending search for true love (lol), I didn’t know whether I could commit, enough to justify paying 85 hard-earned pounds a year for my own domain.

I also didn’t think I’d ever get enough followers. I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a blogger. Are there enough interesting things happening in my life? Would there be enough things for me to write about so that I could put out a post at least once a week? What makes me think other people would take 10 minutes out of their busy schedules to read what I have to say?

I looked at other bloggers’ websites and thought to myself, I could never do that. I don’t have photography skills, I don’t travel that often and I’m sure as hell am no fashionista. I won’t be able to give anyone make-up tips, I struggle enough as it is to make sure that my eyeliner is applied evenly on my incredibly asymmetric and unequal eyes.

So what is it that I can do? What things define me? What have I done this past year that’s made this blog semi-successful?

I eventually figured out that all it really takes is to stop comparing yourself to others and just do you. I thought about the things that interest me and thought to myself that there’s bound to be other people who share those interests and who will care enough to read my blogs.

And if not? Then I suppose the other, more important question to ask myself is “Why do I write?” Is it just to be seen or is it simply to have a platform for expressing myself, regardless of whether other people read it or not?

I guess more than the “likes” and the “follows”, the two main things that I took with me from a year of blogging is to be myself and to stop caring so much about what other people think and just do things that gives me joy.

Writing is nothing more than an extension of my busy, slightly over-anxious and over-stuffed brain. In a way, it allows me to clear my head so that I’m able to function normally (more or less).

Connections are important to me. Making a difference matters to me. I appreciate all the follows I’ve received, and I’m still slightly flabbergasted that I’ve amassed a considerable number of them. But as the great Brandon Flowers once said, if their songs only ever touch one person’s life but touches it in a meaningful way, that’s more than enough reason to continue making music.

That’s the same with me and writing. If I can get someone out of a bad mood or help someone who’s going through the same thing as I am or make people laugh even if its at my expense, then its worth all the time it takes to write a post.

I think that all things considered, I’m not really a blogger in the true sense of the word. I’m simply a girl who finds pleasure in putting words on paper (or on screen as the case may be).

I have no qualms over admitting how incredibly mundane my life is; when you look at my site its pretty ordinary. However, I am so proud of it because the one thing that I see when I go to blabbaholicsandbookworms.com is that I see me. And that for me is more than enough.

Happy one year anniversary Miss Blabbaholic. xx

Posted in relationships, Self-Discovery, Stress Relief

A Letter From Me to Me

Dear Self,

For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always been a fast learner. However, there’s one lesson that you’ve wilfully and consistently failed to learn: the lesson that, no matter what you do, you will never be able to please everyone. 

It’s frustrating for me to see how you bend over backwards in an effort to be “universally loved”. IT’S NEVER GONNA HAPPEN. Not because your efforts are lacking, but because that’s just the way the world is made.

Whenever someone comes up with an idea, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will always be one naysayer for every fifty supportive comments. This shouldn’t bring you down or stop you from making similar efforts in the future.

No, what you have to do is to file experiences like these under the heading of Character-Building. Its not good for anyone to think so highly of themselves anyway. We need detractors to keep us humble and to keep us grounded.

We need negative people to inspire us to do even better next time. Success truly is the sweetest revenge; if you can’t change their minds and their opinions about you or about what you’re doing, you can at least prove them wrong when you throw proof of your success in their face. 

The point is, you just have to remember the reasons for why you do the things you do. You’re not doing it to gain praise or for people to like you; you’re not looking for appreciation or any sort of reward.

No, you do the things you do because you genuinely believe in them. And that kind of conviction is a strength to be cultivated; it is what will make you go far in life despite people trying to drag you down.

There are more people who appreciate you than you know. They may not always say it explicitly but they are there to support you, your ideas and the essence of who you are. Those are the people worth listening to.

Actually, if I could have one wish for you, it would be this: that you’d have a better ability of filtering people’s comments so that you only give credence to the opinions of people who are worthy of your respect.

Don’t ever let anyone dull your sparkle. I know its difficult to stay enthusiastic and engaged when you’ve been disappointed by people so many times before, but if you lose sight of who you are (and if you become negative as a response to the negativity being thrown at you), you’re letting them win.

DON’T LET THEM WIN.

So yeah, you can’t please everybody. And nor should you try to. You are not obligated to set yourself on fire just to keep somebody else warm. Do not take to heart comments that are so far beneath you that they’ll need a shovel to dig them out.

Have a little cry about it, its a natural response to people hurting your feelings. But pick yourself up and remember the eternally wise words of one Taylor Alison Swift:

Don’t you worry your pretty little mind, people throw rocks at things that shine

Chin up anj, everything always looks better after a good night’s sleep. If not, well, that’s what chocolate is for.

Love,

The More Rational Side of You

 

Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, Travel, United Kingdom

A Non-Hiker’s Guide to Climbing Arthur’s Seat

 

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“I’m on my way from misery to happiness today…”

– The Proclaimers

Finally, the last part of my Scotland blogs. Finding the time to write this blog was even more difficult than hiking up to Arthur’s Seat itself and I needed time because I really wanted to be able to do justice to one of the best experiences of my life (despite the unflattering photos and continuous whinging that you’ll all soon find in this blog).

The very first time I heard of Arthur’s Seat, my imagination was immediately captured. Despite the fact that I knew Camelot was just a legend, there was a small and unreasonable part of me that believed I’d find Excalibur on top of those hills.

I was all fired up to make this hike. I was so excited that it was all I could talk about during the long weekend. It was to be the grand finale of our Edinburgh weekend, not by design but because the weather was truly rubbish up until our last day, when the sun decided to come out and play.

TIP NUMBER ONE: Do not do this hike in questionable weather conditions. Seriously. 

This hike is quite a popular one and we asked several of our acquaintances about their own experience just to give us an idea of what to expect and what to prepare for. It’s easy, they said. Kids can do it, they said. Literally a walk in the park.

TIP NUMBER TWO: Do not listen to your acquaintances. Do your own research. 

It was not a bloody walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. Climbing up Arthur’s seat is a proper hike. Had we known this, we would have been more prepared. I was wearing Hunter boots, for crying out loud. Those things were made for the rain, not for a rocky terrain. I was pretty much petrified the whole time that the rocks would somehow tear through the rubber and I’d have to make the long trek home on bare feet.

Which leads me to….

TIP NUMBER THREE: Dress for the occasion. 

I’m not much of a hiker but I’m pretty sure shoes with traction are a requirement if you’re climbing up hills and crags. There were also areas in which the ascent was slippery as hell. Do not even get me started on the descent.

Because we were rendered complacent by the seemingly expert advise of our numerous acquaintances, we chose to walk from our flat in the city centre to Arthur’s seat. As a direct result of this monumentally stupid idea, we ended up walking for FOUR HOURS.

It took us nearly an hour to get to the base of Holyrood Park (where the peak was), two hours to climb up and down the peak and, because we got lost, another hour to get back to the city centre.

We had no food, and even more appalling, we had no water. We were incredibly unprepared for this hike, its a wonder we didn’t pass out.

TIP NUMBER FOUR: Take a bloody bus or tram to Holyrood Park for god’s sake. And bring sustenance. 

Anyway, if you ignore the fact that you’re huffing and puffing and that you’ve been walking for the better part of two hours and you still can’t see the bloody peak, the views were pretty incredible. It was hard to believe we were still within the city of Edinburgh.

Being there truly felt like being transported back to a time and place when things were much simpler. Maybe that’s why city dwellers like me need to get out every now and then: take in a  little bit of nature, remind ourselves of how we are just a tiny speck in a very big world and this is why we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

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TIP NUMBER FIVE: Take time to breathe, ruminate and get a little perspective. There’s no better place for it than when you’re out in nature. 

And then of course you get closer to the peak itself and you are reminded by how much of a millennial you are because despite the fact that some of those paths really were treacherously difficult, you still find the time to whip out your phone so that you can have a photo to post on Instagram. Oh well.

I don’t know whether it was because of the bad weather on the previous days but going up the peak was a little bit too slippery for my peace of mind. I had to use my hands and my feet to make sure I don’t get an injury. My mind was already conjuring up visions of me asking my favourite surgeon to fix my broken ankle. Shudder.

TIP NUMBER SIX: Do not think of broken ankles while making a difficult climb. FOCUS, YOU IDIOT. 

The last few levels (for lack of a better word) before the peak itself were among the hardest bit you have to get through. I very nearly convinced myself that I was content with having made it that far, I didn’t really need to climb that last hurdle.

But then I thought about how I’ve come too far to chicken out at the last minute.

Plus, I think I have residual abandonment issues. I’ve always hated the thought of being left behind, of not being able to do something that everyone else was doing. Those things combined gave me enough of a push to get over my fears and just focus on climbing – excruciatingly slow, yes, but I was making it up to that peak if had to crawl on my hands and knees to do it.

And thank God I did. The views were awesome, yes, that was a given. But what I didn’t count on was the exhilaration that came with finishing a hike; I felt a huge sense of achievement even though I knew this was probably nothing compared to other trails elsewhere in the world. The important thing is that I did it, despite being genuinely scared at times. I am pretty sure there’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

TIP NUMBER SEVEN: Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear – George Addair

Okay so I didn’t find Excalibur on Arthur’s Seat. But I returned to London feeling recharged and ready to take on the world. I had memories of an incredible weekend and I felt even more motivated to do as many hikes as I can, see more of the world outside of the concrete jungles I usually visit when I travel.

There’s a reason why we spend so much money travelling. At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is that the world truly is such a beautiful place. There are so many places you can go, so many things to see, and you’re lucky if you get the chance to see as much of it as you can. If you do get that chance, grab it with both hands.

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews, women

Book Review: Anatomy of A Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Now here’s a blinding flash of the obvious: sex, lies and scandals sell.

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Anatomy of a Scandal is the latest in a string of novels that tackle the subject matter of marriage and infidelity, and how passion can make anyone do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Honestly, I have long since removed my rose-colored glasses. I no longer see the world through the filters of my childhood Disney influences. I am grown-up and realistic enough to accept that there’s no such thing as perfect relationships.

However.

I am increasingly frustrated by the way marriage is portrayed in the number of books I’ve read recently. I mean, is nothing sacred anymore? When did fidelity become the exception rather than the rule? When did society learn to turn the other cheek when a husband is caught cheating on his wife or vice versa? When did we become so blasé about something that – to me- is so fundamentally wrong?

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Okay, now that I’ve had my little rant, let me try to actually get a coherent review of this book out.

Anatomy of A Scandal is actually a courtroom drama more than anything else. A charming and influential MP is accused of rape by a woman with whom he’s been having an affair with for several months. This makes the case trickier because the issue of consent is blurred by the fact that they’ve had consensual sex several times prior to the incident in question (a quickie at the elevator right at the heart of the Houses of Parliament, HONESTLY).

This book really gets down to the nitty-gritty. For all that I hate the fact that this is another book about a cheating cretin, I really do admire it for the awareness it brings to the public about the kind of rape where consent is a grey area rather than a clear-cut case of “she didn’t want it”.

According to this book, the prosecutor has to make the jury believe that at the point of penetration, the accused was fully aware that they victim did not consent to the act. So really, she could have been enjoying the foreplay but if she didn’t want to go all the way and yet the man still insisted on scoring a home run, its still rape. I never knew that.

This book also brings to light the reason why so many victims do not come forward about their experiences. I mean, I don’t mean to generalise, but there is so much burden placed on the victim to provide proof of rape. And when you do come forward, your character and history are scrutinised, criticised and judged by everyone involved; your business becomes everybody’s business.

If you’re somehow the kind of woman who likes to look good, dress sexy or flirt every now and then, people seem to think you deserved what happened to you. As if one thing led to the other. As if there was no distinction between being a flirt and unsolicited sex. In this case, the odds against the victim are stacked even higher because she was “the other woman”.

It’s book likes these that make me thankful that the world is now paying more attention to things like sexual harassment in the workplace and that victims of assault have found their voice through movement like Time’s Up and Me Too. Where there once was just ripples in the ocean, feminism is now making waves. And thank God for that because its about damn time that abusers (and I’m not saying that they are exclusively of the male variety) finally answer for their sins.

Anyway, this book isn’t really a crime novel, nor is it the kind of book you pick up if you want to enjoy a fast-paced and thrilling plot. The story unfolds gradually, and in a non-linear fashion through the use of flashbacks. There were very few plot twists and none that you wouldn’t see coming.

It’s told from several point of views, one of which is the wife of the accused, which is why I went on the whole cheating rant because I just felt so sorry for her. I mean, you work hard to maintain a marriage, you compromise in order to make a partnership work and you think things are going along swimmingly AND THEN you’re completely blindsided not only by the discovery of an affair but by a far greater and more public scandal. Its enough to turn someone off the whole institution of marriage altogether.

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I think I’m going to read a romance novel next just to remind myself that the world is still a romantic place and that as long as the people in it continue to believe in true love, hope still springs eternal. Sappy, I know, but I need to take this belief with me when I go to sleep at night.

Because if love no longer exists, and all we’re left with are the lies and the scandal and the constant infidelity, what is the point of waking up in the morning? Scary thought.