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, LGBT, Uncategorized

Reading LGBT Books With Pride, Literally (Literally!)

When I was younger, my reading tastes were strictly limited to two things: Sweet Valley and the kind of bodice-ripping romance novels from the likes of Johanna Lindsey featuring guys with a long mane of blond hair who I’ve recently discovered were all basically the same guy in different outfits whose name was Fabio.

I’m happy to say that my tastes have evolved since then. I’ve mostly outgrown romance novels, especially the ones that seem more like wish fulfilment rather than actual literature (I’m looking at you, Twilight).

Joining the Goodreads community, and my forays into the book clubs around London, has exposed me to many different genres. I’ve read so many fabulous books these past couple of years, more than I can ever manage to review, and I’ve picked up books from genres that I never would have imagined myself exploring ten years ago.

The one recent and unexpected genre I’ve discovered recently is LGBT-themed books. I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably open-minded person despite my sheltered and almost prudish upbringing. But the Philippines, being a strictly Roman Catholic country, isn’t exactly the kind of place where you’d have a bookstore that proudly boasts an LGBT section.

I came across my first LGBT-themed novel when I was challenged by one of my Goodreads friends to read a New Adult book called Him, which was actually co-written by two of my favourite authors, both of whom have published a lot of books featuring heterosexual couples. I was in between books at the time, and travelling around Western Europe by train, so I decided to give it a go.

I’ve always believed that the more we come to accept each other’s differences, the easier it us for us to accept that we are all the same despite of it. This is what I realised when reading ‘Him’. Sure, gay couples will have difficult experiences that people who are straight will never fully understand. But fundamentally, these books are all about the struggle to understand your feelings, and the courage it takes to act on them.

I think that’s something that everyone will relate to, straight, gay, bi, trans and everything in between.

At the risk of sounding corny, I think The Beatles said it right when they said that all we need is love. I think as human beings we are genetically engineered to crave companionship, no man is a bloody island after all. And that’s another running theme in all books, that human need for another person who will see the world in the same way that you see it, to paraphrase from the great John Green.

So, in honour of pride weekend, I thought I’d make a list of the fabulous, world-view-altering, and inspiring LGBT books I’ve read these past couple of years in the hopes that other readers like me will pick them up and discover what I did, that to want to love and be loved is universal. Enjoy, fellow bookworms!

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

1522333146

I’ve reviewed this book for my blog and I’ve recently re-read it because the movie adaptation came out. Both are equally good, but the movie doesn’t really capture the quirky, naive, confused and endearing quality of Simon’s inner thoughts.

Just to add to the diverse theme of this novel, Simon’s main love interest is also of a different race. But again reading it, I never noticed any of those things. This was just a plain old sweet and awwww-inspiring YA novel that is a must-read for any fans of the genre.

Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe

71Ha8X7iAjL

This is another one of those YA books that ran the risk of being sickeningly sweet and overly saccharine but because it was placed in the hands of a talented author, it became a tender and romantic ode to coming-of-age and the wonders of falling in love with your best friend. The writing style reminded me a lot of Rainbow Rowell, one of my favourite YA authors. And the cover was absolutely divine.

Call Me By Your Name

36336078

Ah, yes. The book that started my obsession for all things Timothee Chalamet. I read this book at a time in my life when I could relate to the main situation of the novel, even if not necessarily its main theme. I’ve already waxed lyrical about how much I love this book so I won’t go into it again. If you missed it, read my review here.

The Song of Achilles

9781408821985

This one actually won the Orange Prize in 2012. I read it because it was recommended by fans of Call Me By Your Name. It was wonderful and sad all at the same time. I mean, I know the story of Achilles and his famous heel but somehow reading the backstory made this Greek tragedy feel even more tragic. Read with a box of tissues on hand.

Maurice

3103

This one I read again because of my love for all things related to Timothee Chalamet. I think the movie adaptation of this book was directed by James Ivory, who is the Academy Award winning screenwriter of Call Me By Your Name.

Anyway, this book not only deals with being gay in England at a time when it was a punishable crime, it also deals with class boundaries and the struggle to be yourself even amidst the crushing weight of familial expectations. A bit darker, less of a fluff piece, but an interesting read nonetheless.

If We Were Villains

9781785656477

This one was a Waterstones bookclub recommendation that sparked the liveliest debate in all of the sessions I attended, in part because of the dodgy and inscrutable characters but also because of its ambiguous ending. This is more of a thriller than anything else but at the heart of it is the kind of passionate, boundary-breaking love that can drive someone insane. Its since become one of my favourite murder/mystery novels. Read my review here.

Him

25686927

And finally, the book that started it all. I find it fitting that a romance novel like this  started what has since become quite a literary adventure. Okay, I may have cringed and blushed at a few of the more graphic scenes. But really, is it any different than when you read straight romance novels? I don’t think so. I’m glad I got past the initial discomfort and awkwardness of this experience, because at the heart of ‘Him’ is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read, right up there with anything Judith McNaught or Johanna Lindsey has to offer.

And also, these guys were two best friends who eventually came to see each other in a different light. And they realised that the one thing they’ve been looking for has been standing in front of them this whole time. Sounds familiar? Of course it does.

Happy Pride Weekend everyone!

 

Posted in Books, Lifestyle, london

Top Five Reasons Why You Should Join A Book Club

In one of my many attempts to alleviate boredom and broaden my social circle, I joined the Armchair Murders Book Club at Waterstones a couple of months ago. The club meets every first Wednesday of the month at the Piccadilly branch of the well-know bookstore.

When I first started telling people about it, I got a lot of raised eyebrows and funny looks. I think some of my friends had this picture of me sitting with a bunch of old people and knitting while we talk about books. To be fair, I had the same apprehensions going into the first meeting. But I just reached a point where being on the Goodreads community wasn’t enough anymore and I just wanted to meet people who have a similar passion for books. I thought to myself that, if nothing else, I would at least get free wine out of it.

I think back to that first meeting and compared it to the one I attended on Wednesday evening and it really warms my heart to see how much the group has grown in numbers. I think we had about six people in the group when I first joined; on Wednesday there were 15 of us coming in to discuss this month’s book. Half the people in the group were my age or younger, which made for a very lively discussion. Everyone was so into it.

Anyway, if you love books and you love talking about them and analysing them down to the smallest detail, then joining a book club is one of the best things you can do. If you’re having second thoughts because you have pre-conceived notions about book clubs, STOP RIGHT THERE and allow me to tell you why joining one is awesome:

 

Free Wine

You laugh, but this is actually one of the biggest draw for some people. I mean, if you have to be bored out of your mind, its better to be bored with a glass of pinot grigio in your hand right?

(By the way, I don’t know if all book clubs offer free wine, but Waterstones certainly does)

 

Ten Percent Discount on Books of the Month

If you buy books as much as I do, every little discount helps. Of all the perks, I think this is the one I love most. The club often selects books for the next two months and I often just get both because I know they’ll be discounted anyway.

 

You read books that you don’t normally read

I have to admit that I used to be the kind of reader that stuck to certain genres or authors. I mean, I’ve always really loved murder/ mystery and crime fiction, but my choices tend to be more generic or a novel that’s made it to the bestseller’s list. Never in a million years would I have picked up a book like Black Water Lilies, which has been translated from French to English. And that would have been a shame because its now become one of my favourite books.

Because of the book club, I have literally learned not to judge a book by its cover and I’ve discovered so many more books to read. Its also broadened my taste in books in general, as in I now pick up a book because its a good story and not just because its written by an author whose work I’ve read before.

 

A New Perspective

This month’s book was If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. If you haven’t read it already, you can see my review on this book here. I raced through that book because the plot and the characters really gripped me. And you can see from my review that I was really drawn to the romantic part of it, going so far as to say that I felt like love was the overarching theme of the book.

Wednesday night’s discussion really gave me a fresh insight into the book. By listening to other people’s opinions and their own interpretation of some of the scenes, I can see my own naïveté and how my own personality and outlook in life colour the way I see things. Among the key points that I learned last night was that love is different from obsession. Love is not love if it hurts other people and that even if you think you’re doing something for someone you supposedly love, it doesn’t mean that you’re not being selfish and manipulative. I will probably never look at a romance novel in the same way again (lol).

 

Friendly Debates

Of course not everyone loved the book. There were quite a few people who had strong opinions about either the plot or the characters. But the point of the book club is that you have to read it anyway, regardless of whether you want to throw the book against the wall halfway through. I knew from the start that this was the kind of book that would polarise the group and I was right. It was very interesting to hear from both the “lovers” and the “haters” and I really enjoyed debating plot points and character development with people who were as into these things as I was.

 

New Friends

One of my friends told me once that she really envied how I could easily feel at ease with people I’ve just met. I think I’m just the kind of person who’s interested in everyone’s story. I enjoy a good gab session, I really do. So if  you put me in a situation where I meet new people AND I get to talk about books, then you’ll really see me in my element. I genuinely enjoyed the company of the people I met last night and as a result I have more Facebook and Goodreads friends this week than I had last week. Life is good.

 

I know joining a book club doesn’t really sound like a cool thing to do. But in my opinion, we already do so many things just to project a certain image to the world, we should be able to do things for ourselves or just because we love it. And that’s what being in a book club means to me. I hope all my fellow bookworms out there find a similar outlet for their passion as well.

Cheers! x

 

 

Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo

The first book in a YA fantasy series often feels like a first date with a guy you met off Tinder. Their are three likely outcomes: hit, miss or meh. I’ve yet to decide how I feel about this book, so I guess my reaction falls into the meh category.

There were bits of it that I liked. I know that world-building is a key element in YA fantasy and its something that most book reviewers will discuss ad infinitum when deciding whether a series has merits or not. Fine. I get it, we need the kind of writing that will transport us to another world figuratively if not literally.

But for me, the characters always come first. And I like the cast of characters that Leigh Bardugo has assembled in this book. The Grisha are a fascinating lot – equal parts magicians, scientists and (from the author’s descriptions of them) incredibly good-looking supermodels. They can heal, stop your heart, forge weapons without fire, or summon light and darkness.

Alina, the main female character, is less annoying than your usual teenage protagonist. Sure, she succumbed to the usual flaw of YA heroines everywhere (finding herself in the middle of a love triangle) but I’m beginning to think that this trope is the lynchpin that holds the entire YA fantasy genre together. Its like an unwritten rule: if you write YA fantasy, you need to make your heroine choose between two equally fascinating guys. I would blame Stephenie Meyer for this, but I’d be wasting my breath.

I will instead adopt a new attitude and choose to accept and even embrace the idea of love triangles.

I empathise with Alina, truly. Reading this I really couldn’t decide whether I was more in love with the bad boy Darkling – the most powerful of all Grisha – or boy next door Mal. So who am I to stand judgment on Alina for dithering? I would dither myself. Some readers would probably hate that the romance sort of took over the latter half of the book, but I think the bonds Alina created with both these men were essential to us understanding the choices she made in the end, and sets the tone for what the rest of the series would be like. I, for one, find myself excited to explore how these tangled relationships will turn out.

That’s not to say that we don’t get our share of action and magic. I’ve always loved the scenes in books and movies where a hero or heroine is in training and are just starting to come to terms with the things they can do. I especially like when they start out as underdogs, doubtful of their worth or their place in the world they now find themselves in – just like Harry Potter and Hogwarts. It makes that moment of revelation and understanding, that moment when they use their powers for the first time, even more satisfying – overused as that trope may be.

I liked the blending of influences found in the fantasy elements of the story. The concept of amplifiers, an object that both enhances and checks a Grisha’s power, is something I’m looking forward to learning more about in future books. I like that the purported villains in this book – the Volcra, the things that hide in the shadows, and even the Darkling himself – are portrayed with care and depth. Nothing and no one is as they seem, and there are motived behind motives, secrets behind secrets.

We also get taken on a journey through Ravka as a country. Here the critics can explore whether or not Leigh Bardugo’s world-building skills are up to scratch. For me, though I was a bit underwhelmed by the setting, I didn’t think she did half bad. The descriptions of the places and people were vivid and atmospheric enough. I can see the glittering halls of the Grand and Little Palace through my mind’s eyes, feel the snowflakes falling on my skin and the cold wind biting into my bones.

I do wish that we could have spent more time in the Shadowfold – that sinister stretch of land covered in darkness that makes Ravka a divided nation. For something so crucial to the plot, the scenes in that place almost felt like an afterthought or just another plot device. Maybe that was deliberate. I have a feeling we’ll be going back to it when we move forward with the books. The Shadowfold is where it all began, I have a feeling there is where it will all end.

I try not to go into Goodreads before starting a series because I don’t want to be influenced by other reviewers…but I couldn’t help myself. There seems to be a great deal of different opinions with this one, and I think its the kind of book that polarises readers: you either really love it or hate it. As I said, I’m still firmly in the meh, we shall see category. The only thing I can say for sure at this point is that I will be going to my nearest Waterstone’s and buying the second book in the series to find out what happens next.

Bring on the second date.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars