Posted in family, Reviews

Mary Poppins Returns…and so does my childhood

My father used to keep a collection of VCDs (remember those?) that we watched as a family during christmas and summer holidays. One of the movies we had on continuous repeat was Mary Poppins, starring the delightful Julie Andrews and the often maligned Dick Van Dyke.

I grew up learning that a spoonful of sugar will help the medicine go down, and that Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a magical world that will help me get through anything. When I first came to London and saw the dome of St Paul’s, I remembered that little old lady on the steps of the cathedral that fed the birds, tuppence a bag.

It was such a huge part of my life, and I expect its the same for every other kid out there who grew up in the 80s and 90s. As an adult, I probably appreciate it for very different reasons, reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the movie itself and everything to do with the memories it evokes.

You see, watching Mary Poppins (and any Disney film really) feels a little bit like getting back the joys and wonders of childhood, before cynicism and realism had time to sink their hooks into our consciousness.

I often wonder at what age it starts becoming inappropriate to dream and wish and hope. I know I often get laughed at (good-naturedly) for still getting excited over all things Disney.

I get called out a couple of times a month for having my head in the clouds, and I’ve learned to hide the (many) childish things I still get a delight out of because I’ve been told its no longer appropriate for a woman in her early 30s.

I find that really sad.

I find it really sad that we’ve put a time stamp on childhood and have somehow forced ourselves to grow up and get over the sheer happiness that comes when you still look at the world with wonder.

What’s the use of getting up every day if you no longer believe something magical might happen?

Just to be clear, I don’t expect birds to sing whenever I walk down Oxford Street or for my Prince Charming to come charging down Marylebone High Street looking for me while I’m at work. Nor do I go to St. Paul’s to feed the pigeons, because they truly are the most annoying creatures.

But I still find joy in believing in all the possibilities that life has to offer. I think that growing up is essential, but growing out of imagination and dreams is a crime.

And that’s where Mary Poppins Returns come in.

I know people’s opinions are split right down the middle. Some people loved it, some people hated it (mostly because they kept comparing it to the original). For me, I think if you go into the cinema with expectations, then you’re going into it thinking like an adult – which is the one thing you shouldn’t be when you’re watching this movie.

I think if you go into it just waiting to be amazed, if you allow yourself to be taken back to the simpler times of your childhood, you will find that this is a fantastic movie with very strong themes of love, family and keeping that sense of childhood wonder alive.

It pays tribute to the original in subtle ways that don’t detract from the fact that this is a sequel, not a reboot. The songs, while not instant classics, touched me in ways that I can’t explain, except to say that I had tears streaming down my face at several moments during the movie.

It was like taking a trip back in time to the room my brother and sister and I shared with our parents, in a small town in the Philippines, and hearing Feed The Birds for the first time. With a little imagination, I’m right there with Papa and Mama, singing along to the songs I’ve always loved best.

Sometimes I lose my point when I get so into the topic I’m writing about, but somehow I always manage to find my way back to it. I wasn’t really intending to write a review about the movie. My only review is this: I LOVED IT.

Last week, my orthopaedic boss was telling me a story about his wife and how she wrote a strongly-worded email to their son’s teacher. This teacher somehow took it upon herself to tell the children in her class that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. He’s not real. Grow up and get over it.

I’m not a parent but I am outraged on their behalf. 

No one has the right to shatter a child’s precious illusions. They will find out how harsh the reality of the world really is in due time, we shouldn’t deprive them of the chance to be children for just a little while longer.

I think that this is ultimately my point, and the point of this blog.

Every once in a while we should remember what it felt like to be children.

I know that a return to childhood is difficult, if not impossible. But I think that it is possible to keep the simple joys and beliefs we all felt as children, to still allow ourselves to dream and wonder even as adults. Its possible.

As Mary Poppins said, anything is possible, even the impossible.

Posted in bloggers, Books, Feminism, Politics, Reviews, women, Women's literature

Book Review: Becoming – Michelle Obama

Its hard to condense in a few short paragraphs how profoundly good this book is.

I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for a while now trying to process what I just read and the things I have learned. I have thought of little else since finishing Becoming at 1am this morning, and more than 12 hours later I’m still at a loss as to how to start reviewing it.

I can’t pinpoint the exact time I became a Michelle Obama fan. Maybe it was when I saw her on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden belting out Beyonce hits like nobody’s business.

Maybe it was when I saw a photo of her opening up the White House to kids and hula-hooping with them on the South Lawn.

I was definitely a fan when I heard her speak during a commencement rite in one of the high schools in America whose name I have now forgotten, encouraging young people, and young women especially, to pursue their dreams despite the odds stacked against them.

She knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the latter. She’s not just paying lip service when she talks to the marginalised and the disenfranchised about overcoming adversity, she’s talking from experience. Because their story is her story.

Most people would think that Becoming is the story of how a young black girl who grew up in the South Side of Chicago eventually made it into the White House, the sort of modern-day rags-to-riches Cinderella story that people love to read about.

Well, Michelle Robinson Obama is no Disney Princess. She would not be caught dead feeding birds and baking pies simply waiting for her prince to come. She’s just as likely to slay the dragon herself than she is to ever wait for a man to come and save her.

Hers was not an easy life. Her parents had to work hard to provide for their family, her mother sewed her clothes and she shared a room with her brother growing up because their entire apartment was smaller than her walk-in closet in the White House.

She grew up in a less tolerant America, where racism was widespread and people still held strong beliefs and prejudices against people of colour.

She talks about what it was like to grow up in that kind of environment, to know that you have to work twice as hard as anyone in order to be given the same recognition, all because of the colour of your skin.

Instead of falling victim to the narrative that seemed to be set out for her, though, she chose to rise above it, excelling in her studies, getting into Princeton and, later, Harvard.

She would also work at one of the top firms in Chicago where she’d meet the man who would eventually become her husband, and the leader of the free world.

Despite the gravitas of her story, and despite the weight and importance of the role she once held, Michelle Obama managed to come across as incredibly down to earth.

The book is written in such an engaging way that I didn’t realise I was nearing the end until she was talking about soaking in the last few moments of her life as First Lady.

At that point, she honestly felt less like the icon that she is and more of a friend.

For someone who’s been one half of the world’s most high-profile couple for the better part of the last decade, she is refreshingly candid and relatable.

She doesn’t gloss over her faults, like her tendency to go apoplectic with rage whenever she gets into an argument with her husband, or her need to put things in some kind of ordered lists that she can later tick off as being done.

She doesn’t deny that she has moments of self-doubt, days when she felt like she wasn’t good enough. She talked about how much it hurt when something she says is misconstrued or disproportionately blown up by the pundits and the media.

She was very open about the personal struggles she went through with her marriage, her  aversion to politics and her moments of resentment over the fact that she has to share her husband, and the father of her children, with the rest of America.

Through it all, she remained relentlessly optimistic and hopeful. Rather than dwelling on the things she can’t change, she chose to focus on the things that she could, finding things she was passionate about and pursuing them with gusto.

Time and time again she would butt heads with her own staff and opposing parties just to implement something she thinks would be good for a lot of people. And while there’s a lot of politics involved in that, I’m happy to say that politics did not play a major role in this book.

Instead, the struggle for equality was the central theme in this memoir, both for women and for people of colour.

I know it might sound trite or corny, but this book really resonated with me as it hammers home what it means to be a woman, of a different race, trying to make it in a city that is predominantly white.

When I first came to the UK, I met people who would always comment, with a tone of surprise, on how fluent my English was. I had a colleague who was shocked that I was interested in Caravaggio paintings and Bernini sculptures. One of the surgeons I used to work with expressed surprise that I’ve read Dickens.

They have this preconceived notions of Filipinos as people who receive limited education, who speak broken English, who are not interested in culture beyond our adobos and karaokes, and who form pockets of communities wherever they go because they don’t want to socialise with people who are not Asians.

I wasn’t conscious of doing it at the time, but I set out to shatter all of that just to prove that I come from a country that, for all its faults, are full of hardworking and intelligent people that are just as capable as any Westerner in any job or any role.

In the end, all anybody really needs is for someone to take notice and to give them the opportunity to prove they can do it.

I have never really felt like a victim of racial discrimination, and that’s because I’ve never allowed myself to be.

In the end, the colour of my skin is not the central plot of my story. The central plot is my hopes, dreams, aspirations and the many things that I still want to achieve, that I believe I can achieve.

Its very affirming to know that someone of Michelle Obama’s calibre has gone through the same thing, has been on the same journey.

To say that it is exactly the kind of book we need to be reading right now is an understatement. For women especially, it sends a message of hope and empowerment that is sorely lacking from the increasingly gratuitous and pretentious era of social media.

This book will hopefully encourage everyone to use whatever platform they have, whether its a small instagram following or a larger political stage, to tell their story for the purpose of inspiring others as this book has really inspired me.

Her story is our story. Her becoming is a message to all of us, but especially for young women, that we too can become.

Posted in Books, Lifestyle

My Winter-Spring Reading List

A friend was asking me for book recommendations earlier this week and it made me go back to my bookshelf to check out what I have, only to realise I have a freakin’ stockpile of books I’ve bought but haven’t had the time to read yet.

I need help. I have a disease. A disease where I need to follow the compulsion to buy books every time I go into a bookstore. I always leave Waterstones asking myself: WHAT THE HELL HAVE I JUST DONE?!?

(This is usually after having just forked over at least 50£ for a bunch of books)

I’ve now imposed a ban upon myself: I am no longer allowed to buy books until I finish the unread ones currently sitting on my shelves.

So, without further ado, here’s my 2019 winter-spring reading list:

Becoming – Michelle Obama

This one I’m halfway through, and I personally can’t wait to blog about this incredibly inspiring book. A must-read, especially for strong independent women trying to find their place in the world.

Mythos – Stephen Fry

The story of the Greek Gods told in Stephen Fry’s inimitably funny, humorous and tongue-in-cheek style. Mythology as seen and narrated from a 21st century perspective. This should be fun!

Heroes – Stephen Fry

A companion to Mythos, this time covering the Age of Heroes: Perseus, Jason and the Argonauts etc.

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

This one intrigued me so much when I pick it up, because its the Iliad as seen through the eyes of the women who had to live through those turbulent times. For once, Achilles and his damned heel won’t be the centre of attention.

The Queen and I – Sue Townsend

What happens if the institution of monarchy were suddenly abolished and the Royal Family had to move to and adjust to living a life in the Midlands? It makes for great comedy, I’d imagine!

Fire and Blood – George RR Martin

The long and bloody history of the Targaryen dynasty, starting from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III. I love love love Game of Thrones, and although this doesn’t cover recent history (like the reign of Mad King Aerys) I still can’t wait to read this.

Time’s Convert – Deborah Harkness

Going back to the world of A Discovery of Witches, which, incidentally is now a major tv series! Haha

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

As I understand it, nine people go into some retreat where nothing is at it seems and the retreat leader seems to have nefarious and sinister plans. Oooh.

Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre

About a woman who goes through husbands like I go through socks, except her husbands end up dead so maybe that’s not the most fitting analogy. Lol

City of Ghosts – Victoria Schwab

A book about a girl who can see ghosts, set in one of my favourite cities: Edinburgh

Middlemarch – George Eliot

Because I need to read a classic every once in a while.

The ABC Murders – Agatha Christie

Recommended by my sister and also now a tv series!

Victoria – AN Wilson

Because I love hearing stories about women who rise to the occasion, and Victoria has always been one of my favourite monarchs.

One Day in December – Josie Wilson

Rounding things up with a little story about love and serendipity.

Hope you all find something in this list to enjoy!

Posted in Books, LGBT, Paranormal, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: The Dark Artifices Trilogy – Cassandra Clare

All the potential in the world will not amount to anything if there’s a flaw in the execution.

It pains me to say it, because I am a huge fan of the ShadowWorld and all things connected to it, but this trilogy did not quite live up to my expectations.

Maybe that’s my fault. I’ve been looking forward to Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs‘ story ever since they were introduced in The Mortal Instruments series.

I’ve wondered for so long about the secret behind the parabatai bond and why those who have undergone the ritual were forbidden to fall in love, which is the basic premise of this trilogy.

But while the relationship between these two was explored and discussed ad infinitum, I feel like Cassandra literally lost the plot about halfway through the second book.

I feel like she lost sight of why she was writing this book in the first place and the series took on a life of its own.

And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and while I did love discovering the world of the Faerie and the existence of other dimensions, the overall plot got too cluttered in the end.

That’s not to say that this series was bad.

I think the problem was that she tried too hard to please fans both new and old. There was a massive inclusion of characters from previous books, and I get that she was trying to tie all her past series in some way, but it all just got a little bit much.

The first book started out okay, I thought the main plot of that was interesting and really rich in Shadowhunter history. But then it all slightly veered from the road that I thought it was going to go and it never quite totally got back on track.

There was a little too much focus on the romantic elements, especially in the latter half of the second and most of the third book. Even in the midst of the apocalypse, people still found the time to worry about their love life. Go figure.

So the book wasn’t brilliant, but there were elements of it that were beautifully crafted.

I like how Cassandra Clare continues to preach the importance of inclusion and acceptance in her books. The tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders could almost be a parallel for the current state of the world, prejudice and all.

I love how there’s no shortage of diverse couples in this book. For Cassandra, love is love is love is love. She’s always been a big supporter of the LGBT community and that shines through in her book.

FURTHERMORE, there’s an added element in this book that I thought was absolutely RISQUE for what is essentially still a YA book. I wasn’t sure whether it was entirely appropriate but I have never advocated author censorship, and that part was so beautifully done that I think it might actually end up sending the right message to teens.

Intrigued? Read the book to find out more.

The characters were well-developed. I love the tight-knit relationship of the Blackthorn family and how their love for each other evolved over time as a result of trials and heartbreaking loss.

I like how this series showed that the world is not black and white, and that no one is all good and all bad. I love how it showed that, despite all the evil in the world, everyone is still capable of doing good things in the name of love and family.

I understand that this review is probably not that coherent. To be honest, I’ve yet to decide whether I loved it, liked it or regretted it. And may I just say that the books were a whopper? The last one was nearly as thick as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix!

This series is a far cry from The Infernal Devices trilogy, which will remain forever my favourite, but ultimately, and I’ve literally just decided this, its still a good series. And I look forward to the next one, and the continuation of the Blackthorn saga.

Rating: Solid 3 out of 5 stars.