Posted in bloggers, Books, dating, LGBT, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Into the Danmei Rabbit Hole

I was passing by Waterstones the other day and was reminded by the window display that June was actually Pride month, and as a proud ally I always post a book review to commemorate the fact that love is always love, no matter what form or shape it takes.

This year I thought I’d do a review on a couple of book series that my friend Nina recommended, which are classified under danmei, the Chinese equivalent of the popular Japanese BL (boy’s love lol) genre. These two serialisations have experienced a surge in popularity recently due to the release of a Netflix adaptation called The Untamed in 2019.

I was pretty skeptical about reading these at first, mostly because I’ve always judged my sister and cousin for being so obsessed about manga that they could talk about it for an entire dinner conversation, whilst I twirled my chopsticks and imagined poking my eye out with it just to relieve my boredom. Lol

But actually, as an avid reader and a lover of books, I should have realised sooner that a good story is a good story regardless of packaging. And once I started reading these…well, hooked doesn’t even begin to describe it. I have gone down a rabbit hole that has no end in sight and I am enjoying every second of the fall.

Both Heaven Official’s Blessing and Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation are fantasy novels; there’s a lot of magic and spells and gods and monsters involved. You also learn a lot about Chinese culture, traditions, and beliefs. More importantly, the fact that they even exist in a country where everything goes through extreme censorship, and where being gay is still largely unacceptable, is a damn miracle.

Living in London, I take it for granted sometimes that there are still countries where people are not free to be who they are and to love who they love. I mean, progress: China no longer imprisons anyone for being gay as far as I know; but they’re not exactly advocating for gay rights, equality, and freedom either.

Take The Untamed for example, which is the Netflix adaptation of one of these novels (and my current obsession, don’t judge me). They had to take out any hint of romantic love between the two male leads just so the series would pass censorship and be allowed to even air.

The writers and producers had to go through extreme lengths to satisfy fans of the novel and to convey to discerning viewers that Wei Wu Xian and Lan Zhan are more than just soul brothers, or whatever lame-ass term they came up with. Because the truth is, these guys are actually partners who are in a committed relationship.

The microscopic hints of love between the two characters on screen, the ones that actually passed censorship, are made more special because of the need to be covert and creative. This is also a running theme in the books, where love is not explicit, and its not something you can shout about from the rooftops.

Instead, its expressed in the most infinitesimal of gestures, in the smallest lift of the lips into a secret smile, in the things one does for another regardless of the personal cost. Its not so much the words you say, as much as it is the spaces between the words, in the moments of silence where words need not be said. I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of purity very beautiful. Realistic, maybe not so much.

Still, I grew up in a typical Chinese family where we are not as effusive and demonstrative about our feelings as families in the Western world. I used to look at my parents and think, wow, this isn’t exactly the kind of stuff they write romance novels about, is it?

But actually, isn’t there romance in staying together even when there’s an option to leave, in fighting battles side by side, in being there for the person through sickness and health, and in the warm nights spent watching TV, comfortable in each other’s company, knowing you’ll never have to go through life alone?

I think that Western culture places a lot of emphasis in showing and proving your love, in saying the words “I love you” and needing to hear it said back. And that’s important. We need to be able to say and hear those things. But there is also a place for the spaces between words and the silence between actions.

In addition, in reading these books I am reminded that there are still places where people cannot afford to be demonstrative, where things need to go unsaid, where they have to rely on the weight of every subtle gesture to express how they feel.

I think Pride month is a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come and how much further we still need to go so that everyone, including and especially people who’ve always felt different, will realise that there’s also a place in the world for them and the ones they love.

I’m really glad I gave these books a go, and I can’t wait for the rest of the English translations.

Happy Pride, Everyone!

Posted in family, grief and loss, LGBT, relationships, Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: Under The Whispering Door (And Waking Up Somewhere Strange)

I’ve read enough books to know that literary tastes change over time and sometimes a book you hate can become a book you love depending on your current life circumstances.

I bought Under The Whispering Door by TJ Klune first of all because I was attracted to the spray-painted edges and the beautiful jacket of the Waterstones hardcover edition. I was also on somewhat of an LGBTQ reading streak after finishing the sequel to Aristotle and Dante Explore the Secrets of The Universe.

I like TJ Klune just fine. I think his characters are quirky and cute, if a bit too saccharine for my tastes. However, I do think his books are overly long and suffer from pacing issues.

The premise of this book is interesting enough: a man dies and is taken by the Grim Reaper to some kind of coffee shop called Charon’s Crossing (lol) where a ferryman named Hugo is waiting to guide him to the afterlife.

The middle meandered a bit, and this was where I started to slowly lose interest. And that’s saying a lot, as I was under mandatory hotel quarantine whilst reading this book and literally had nothing else to do apart from sleep, eat, and worry about an upcoming job interview.

I personally thought the story went in a completely different direction from what I was expecting based on the premise, so I put it away and thought, hmph, maybe this needs to go on the DNF pile because life is too short to waste it reading a book you don’t like.

Then my grandmother took a turn for the worse.

My family and I then entered a purgatory of waiting where, especially for those of us who were in the health care business, we knew that all we were doing was delaying the inevitable.

Acute kidney injury and pneumonia at her age, especially with the abysmal health care services in the most rural areas of this country, is not something that patients can easily come back from. I knew her life was measured in weeks, if not days, and on top of everything that already happened this year it all got a little bit too much.

So I picked this book up again, and my situation being what it was, it took on a completely different meaning. I somehow just got what TJ was trying to do with it. Like me, he was processing his grief in the only way he knew how, in the medium that was available to him.

The book, to me, is wish fulfillment at its best. Death is the big unknown. One of life’s unsanswerable questions. Those who are in the position to tell us what happens after we die are the same ones who are unable to do so because you know, they’re dead.

So TJ Klune, like so many before him, attempts to paint a picture of what he thinks it might be like for those who have left us.

But this book is so much more than that. In writing about death, TJ Klune somehow managed to write a book celebrating life. I think that’s what really struck me about this book. Its meant to bring some measure of comfort to those left behind, but its also an urge, a plea to the living to make the best of the time they have left to think about what’s really important.

So much about life and death is a mystery. I think there are parts of it that we’re not meant to understand, and that’s where faith comes in I guess. My faith isn’t as strong as it was. I’m not the type who believes in mysticism and signs, not like I used to anyway. The older we get, the harder it is to believe in the intangible, in the things that are can’t be explained by reason or supported by facts.

But consider this: For the whole of last week my cousin had been doing all he can to keep my grandmother comfortable. She had days and nights where she couldn’t breath and we were nebulising her so frequently we feared her heart would give out.

There was one evening where I asked my cousin to gather everyone together and started a group Messenger call because a part of me really thought that was it. When she made it through that night, my only remaining prayer was that she lived long enough to allow mum to say her goodbyes. That might be selfish, and it might mean prolonging grandma’s suffering, but I’d like to think it was what she would have wanted too.

My mum and my sister finally arrived at my grandmother’s bedside Saturday evening. She was barely lucid, she sort of vaguely recognised them and followed them around with her eyes, but she wasn’t responsive enough at that point to even respond to a ‘hello’. Arlene, my sister, said goodbye and promised she would be back to see her at 8am the following day with mama.

My grandmother died peacefully in her sleep at 5am the next day. She held on long enough so my mother was able to say goodbye, long enough to answer my prayers.

When my cousin rang me about her death, I reached for Under The Whispering Door, and found immeasurable comfort in the touching story of Wallace, Hugo, Nelson, Mei and Apollo the Dog. I think I’m a different person now to the person I was when I first started reading this. I know a little bit more and I know a little bit less about life and death than I did now.

Here are some of the things I’m certain of though. For a long time, I’ve been living a life so shallow that I’ve cared more about material things and my self-image than the relationships I have with other people. It’s funny how little those things matter when shit really hits the fan. The other thing I do know is that life really is short. At this point, some of us have more years behind us than we do ahead of us.

The last thing I know is that it really doesn’t matter that we don’t know what comes after the end. The idea is to believe that its going to be amazing, and to die with that belief is to die peacefully. There is a version of events where we are all reunited with those we’ve lost, sipping tea and playing mahjong somewhere up in heaven. This is the version that I will choose to believe.

I’ve said this a lot, I’ve thought this a lot, and many thanks to TJ Klune for this beautiful book and for this wonderful message that I am able to give my grandmother, in spirit, as I was unable to do in person:

Goodbye Nanay, I hope you woke up somewhere beautiful.

Posted in dating, family, friendship, LGBT, Young Adult

Book Review: Loveless – Alice Osman

I had my first kiss when I was twenty seven with a guy I’d met while speed dating. I grew up with all kinds of ideas about how my first kiss was going to go. Hopeless romantic that I was (and still am, probably) I imagined either a moonlit walk on the beach or a romantic candlelight dinner with a full orchestra playing Your Song by Elton John. Fireworks were essential, both literally and figuratively.

What I didn’t expect was dinner at a sushi restaurant (bad idea) and being kissed in the the middle of Trafalgar Square (okay, not a bad location) by someone I was only dating because I felt like I HAD to. At that point, everyone I knew was pairing up, getting married, having kids – ticking all those boxes that we had been brainwashed since birth to believe were the ONLY things that gave life meaning.

At that point, I felt like the odd one, the weirdo who was holding out for something that didn’t exist. Maybe saving your first kiss for someone special was a myth that only existed in movies. As one of my friends put it, what was more important was experience. And apparently, I need lots and lots of those.

Needless to say, my first kiss was a flop, I never saw the guy again because he wanted to get serious after only the second date and I knew I didn’t like him that way. He was just a box I needed to tick, and I think I know now that every dating experience I’ve ever had were like that. I felt like I HAD to date, I HAD to make the effort, otherwise I was going to spend my entire life alone, the lonely spinster perpetually thinking about what might have been, the old lady who spends winters by the fireplace knitting, surrounded by cats – alone, lonely, LOVELESS.

Bollocks to that.

It took me quite a long time (and a lot of bad dating experiences) to accept that alone didn’t have to mean lonely. That relationships were not the be all and end all of the universe. That if people judge me for not being in a relationship, it didn’t mean there was something wrong with me, it meant there was something wrong with them. In fact, there is something wrong with a world that measures your value only by your ability to be with another person.

There are all kinds of love apart from the intensely passionate and romantic pairings we see in the movies or read about in books. There’s love for your family, a love for your friends, and a love for yourself.

I think about, for example, the kind of relationship I have with my sister. Growing up, she was this pesky, annoying, bothersome person who taped over my Spice World cassette tape (I wanted to murder her for that, but my mum wouldn’t let me) and read my diaries. Now she’s one of my best friends, one of the few people who call me on my bullshit and never let me think too highly of myself, who will feed me when I’m hungry and make me tea when I’m sick, who will send me recommendations from the British Heart Council every time my hypochondriac brain acts up and I send her a text saying ‘I think I’m having a heart attack’.

You can’t tell me that that kind of love, that that kind of relationship, is somehow less because its not romantic.

As I get older, I’ve learned to make peace with who I am: I’m never going to be conventionally attractive but I love the way I look most of the time. I like to work. Other people will think that’s sad but they do them and I do me. I’d rather read and write than climb walls and fly off aeroplanes. I’m never going to be the most fun person at a party but I’m still fairly okay at making conversation with people. I’ve fallen in love (or thought I did) a few times. Only one or two have been real, to be honest. But throughout all that, my biggest relationship has always been with myself.

And just like any relationship, it has its ups and downs and days when I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror, but I find a way to forgive myself and to promise to do better, to be better, because I want to go to bed at night assured that I liked the person I was today. You can’t tell me that that is somehow less important just because its not really a relationship in the conventional sense.

I have rambled on as usual. Several paragraphs in and I haven’t even talked about the book yet…but everything I just said is essentially what Loveless by Alice Osman is about: the idea that there are all kinds of love, that sexuality is a broad spectrum of things from straight to asexual and aromantic, that no one gets to define what gives your life meaning apart from YOU. The book is messy, cringy, annoying, intense, funny, ridiculous heartwarming and ultimately, a real JOY to read.

I wanted to give up on it halfway through because I thought, meh, I wouldn’t be able to relate to this. I was just about to give it a DNF rating on Goodreads but I have a real aversion to not finishing a book, it just feels wrong to me. So I carried on, and I’m so so glad I did. Because despite my experiences and my sexuality being totally different from Georgia’s, the main protagonist, the whole point of the book is that love may mean all kind of things to all kinds of people, but each meaning is important, and if we could only see how universal it is because of those differences, the world would be a much better place.

The whole point of Loveless is that every story is a love story, well let me tell you one of my favourites:

I’d been living in London for 5 years and I had avoided riding the London Eye because I was saving it for when I finally had someone special to share the moment with. But in 2016, my father came for a visit. It had taken him nearly three years to process his passport, but finally, he was here, in a city that he’d only read about or saw in movies. The London Eye was something we came across on the telly back home on New Year’s Eve; we would gather around and watch the fireworks display as a family. And now there we were, riding one of the pods, just as the sun was starting to set.

Anyone who’s ever been on the London Eye will tell you that its excruciatingly slow, and at 15 minutes in you just want it to be over. But my Dad could not stop looking down on the Thames, and on all of London literally beneath our feet. And the whole time I had this big smile on my face when I looked around and realised, holy shit, my family was with me in my favourite city in the world. It was a magical moment. Better than any first kiss fantasies I’ve ever had.

Whoever you are, whatever your orientation, whether you’re alone or in a relationship right now, you deserve magical moments like that. You deserve joy.

Who knows what the future holds? Maybe next week I meet the love of my life and be married by the end of the year. Maybe I won’t.

But regardless, I wouldn’t consider myself loveless, because without even knowing or fully appreciating it, I am and have always been loved. And that is what makes this book so great. That is the message. Whether you’re gay, straight, bi, pan, ace, trans, queer, alone or in a relationship, we see you, and you are loved.

Book rating: 5 amazing stars

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, women, Women's literature

Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon

I’ve been trying to find words for the past 24 hours that will do this book justice and so far all I have to show for it are drafts that I’ve since decided were rubbish. Sometimes when a book comes out that is so ambitious in its scope, and just so damn interesting, words fail me.

Book like these are an experience. So much patience and skill went into the world-building, which we all know is the foundation of any good fantasy story. The Queendom of Inys, the mysterious Priory and the distant East all felt like real places, places that I would pay big bucks to visit I might add. Each separate location had its own language, religion, traditions and culture. Its a world that felt like it sprung fully-formed from the depths of the author’s imagination. She made it feel so easy and effortless, when it must have taken ages to piece all of it together.

The characters were as alive as the setting. First of all, I like that the members of the female population featured more prominently in this book than their male counterparts. I can see why its being called a feminist book. Its led by three strong women, each with their own distinct personalities, quirks, strengths and faults. One is a queen whose destiny is irrevocably tied to the fate of her country, another is a mage in hiding who’s been tasked to protect a queen. And the third? The third just wants to ride dragons.

Did i fail to mention there were dragons in this story?

They were such glorious, magnificent creatures in this book. You can tell how much enthusiasm Samantha Shannon had in writing them into the narrative, they totally stole each scene they were in. I loved how they were almost human in their portrayal, if that makes sense. Not only were they sentient beings they also had a a voice, a personality, and a sense of humour.

They were so involved in human lives that they even took part in war councils and contributed to political decisions. I know that having any sort of fire-breathing beings in your book will draw the inevitable comparison to Game of Thrones (intended to be a compliment I’m sure) but I think this book is a far cry from being any sort of imitation. I found it quite unique and original.

The story is rich and complex. A dynasty that was built on a lie is threatened by the arrival of an ancient enemy. Add to the mix some political machinations and betrayal, the formation and dissolution of alliances, and above all, the quest for the truth in order to keep a Queendom safe and what you have is a tale of epic proportions.

Despite the fantastical and magical elements though, this is a story that’s (strangely) very much grounded in reality. I certainly saw parallels with the current state of the world. Whether or not it was her intention, there were moments when the book felt like a social commentary on the times.

Finally, let me just say that its very rare to find a book that represents diversity in such an unobtrusive and casual way. For example, Samantha Shannon didn’t make a big fuss about the fact that several of her main characters have fluid sexual orientations, she simply made it the new normal. I think this book is a great testament to how evolved literature has become, and I’m glad that we’re at that stage where not only is everyone free to be who they are (and to love who they love), we’re also free to read and write all about it.

Don’t be put off by the weight of this book. Yes it felt like I could pound a nail through a two-by-four with it, and I gained biceps definition in the time it took me to walk home from the bookstore just by carrying it around. Its a hefty tome, but its worth it. Samantha Shannon has become one of the authors whose future works I will watch out for. The next time she publishes something, I’m going to hie myself off to my nearest Waterstones faster than you can say ‘Dracarys!’.

Amazing book! 4 out of 5 stars.

Posted in Books, LGBT, romance

Book Review: The Binding – Bridget Collins

The Binding is a book I wish I’ve written. Period.

You know a book is good when it leaves you thinking about it for days, even after the last page has been turned. You find yourself staring into space for about 10 minutes just thinking about the story, the characters and that goddamn ending.

I need to start with Bridget Collins’ beautiful prose. I know atmospheric is a word that book reviewers use quite often but this books takes atmospheric to a whole new level. It feels almost like an immersive experience, the way she pulls you in with every change of setting so you feel the cold in your bones, the soot in your face and the taste of tea on your tongue.

The premise of this book is clever, and one that avid readers everywhere will appreciate. Binders weave some kind of magic: with your consent, they take away memories that you can’t bear to live with and bind them in a book that they then store for safekeeping.

After a binding, a person will feel like something’s not quite right. Colours seem less bright, sounds seem muted, food is tasteless, you have after all just lost an essential part of yourself. But what you get in return is some form of peace, a peace that comes from ignorance and from forgetting something that hurt you so deeply you chose to lose yourself rather than keep a memory of it.

I suppose its an exploration of the age old question of living versus simply existing. We are who we are because we’ve loved and because we’ve lost. The cycles of joy, pain, happiness and sorrow are what makes life worth living. You can never fully appreciate what triumph feels like if you’ve never tasted defeat, after all. The secret is in the contrast.

Ah, but I’m going on and on about the philosophical questions that this book brings up when at the heart of it, this book is a love story. I don’t think this book was predictable in that sense (I spent many hours just pondering and dreading the many possible directions this plot would take) but I have an instinct for these things, and I knew from the very moment the characters met that we have something here. Something special.

I went over it and over it in my head because I couldn’t put into words how it made me feel. I thought I was looking for something with perhaps more of a twist, something more complex. But really the magic of the book is in how it pared down a fantastical plot into something as wonderfully simple as two people finding each other again and again despite the odds.

There is a beautiful message here about being true to yourself, and about never letting anyone tell you who you can and cannot love. Its a message of courage and hope, and not being afraid to face and accept that part of yourself that you think no one will ever be able to love, because someday, someone will.

Love always wins.

Utterly stunning and captivating book! 4 stars.

Posted in Books, LGBT, Reviews, Women's literature

Book Review: The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

It’s always the women and children who pay such a high price when “great men” decide to play the game of thrones. Or so the great GRRM once wrote.

I’ve been immersed in all things Greek mythology lately, and I feel like its all been leading up to where it would always inevitably culminate: the epic Trojan War. Poems, novels, music and movies have been written about the ten-year siege of Troy, and of the notorious Helen, also known as the face that launched a thousand ships.

This book is unique in that it tells the story from the perspective of the women who were sold into slavery at the Greek camps when their cities fell to the mighty Achilles and his legendary army of Myrmidons. It focuses on one woman in particular: Briseis, former queen and now slave to Achilles, the man who burned her city and killed her husband and brothers in the process.

So, these reviews always seem to go on longer than I intend them to. I’ve yet to develop the skill of editing my own work, and I probably never will. But I will try to focus on two main themes for this review, for the sake of being “brief”.

The Spoils of War

I’ve always had a weird fascination for reading about war times, not because I’m particularly interested in weaponry and warfare, but because I’m fascinated by its effect on the people who are left behind. I don’t care much about how the war was won, because for me there’s no such thing. When a country goes to war with another country because diplomacy has failed them in every way, everyone loses.

It always breaks my heart to read about the very human stories behind every major war. And its always the same thing, over and over again, throughout the pages of history: the lost promise of youth, children growing up way before their time, young men who never lived long enough to fulfil the dreams their parents had for them.

Its the story of women who have lost fathers, brothers, husbands and sons; women who were never given the opportunity to fight the battles when they were every bit as invested in the outcome. I think if any government leader should ever take it into their head to go to war over something, they should take a good hard look at the women in their family, and to think about all that they would suffer, and decide whether its worth it.

This is the great thing about this book, because it really highlights all of that, and also how the women of the Trojan War were stripped away from their sense of self, from their identities and individualities, from everything that makes them a person, and were instead relegated into the role of objects.

It brings into stark relief all the humiliations and degradations that these women suffered in the hands of so-called heroes: Achilles, Ajax, Agamemnon (although I’ve always thought of him as sort of a prick), Nestor, and even Odysseus. This is an important book to read, and an important point to make, during these times of change when women everywhere are fighting for equality in every arena. Its a call to arms, a message that we will no longer allow this to happen. And for all of that, I salute you, Pat Barker. 

Love is Love is Love

To end this review on a more positive note, I’d like to revisit the story of Achilles and Patroclus. Despite numerous research into the matter, historians are still unable to agree on whether these two were lovers or just really really really close friends. After reading about them in Madeline Miller’s fabulous book, The Song of Achilles, and again here, I am of the opinion that at the end of the day, it makes no bloody difference.

Whether it was the love between brothers, friends or lovers, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is the kind of love that is strong enough to transcend labels, powerful enough to turn the tide of the Trojan War and so powerful that, in my heart, I am sure that it even defied death.

The Greeks, for all their brutal ways, had no hang-ups whatsoever when it comes to sexuality. Hercules had both male and female lovers, it did not make him any less of a legend in their eyes. I love reading about these stories, and I particularly love revisiting the story of Achilles and Patroclus, because it gives me hope.

It gives me hope that if a love like that can exist, there is a future for all of us to look forward to, one in which wars cease to be a possibility, and a world where you can just be free to love who you love, regardless of class, race, age or gender. And that is the kind of ideology that IS worth fighting for.

 

Briseis came to a conclusion towards the end of the book that, for all that she tried to defy and escape him, she was ultimately just another spoke in the wheel, just another supporting character to Achilles’ story. But that doesn’t mean that she does not get to try to write her own story and her own future.

Ultimately, this is what this book is about. We are all free to make our own choices, chart our own destinies and write our own stories. You don’t need to be a hero. You just need to be a person with hopes, dreams and, more importantly, the capacity to love…because long after all the songs have been written about battles and triumphs, its the human tale of love that will endure.

Fabulous book! 4 out of 5 stars. 

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.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, Reviews, Steampunk

Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

When my parents and I visited my cousin in Switzerland last year, she bought us these made-to-order truffles that came in a gorgeous gold box with a blue ribbon around it. At first it looked and tasted like your ordinary run-of-the mill chocolate, and then you kept chewing and chewing and chewing, and suddenly all sorts of flavours explode in your mouth, and its like you discover everything that’s good about the world in that one piece of chocolate truffle.

I know it sounds random, but that is the closest metaphor I could find to describe what it felt like to read this book. 

First of all, I don’t know what Steampunk means, okay? As a blogger and wannabe book reviewer, I should be able to provide a definition for that genre on request but I can’t. This book apparently falls under the genre, and as far as I can tell steampunk is a general term for something that’s set in the Victorian era but contains futuristic (and even fantastical) elements.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I don’t know what steampunk means, because I have never read any novel as hard to categorise and put into a box as this one. It defies genres, it defies explanations, and, at different times while reading it, I thought it defined all common sense in the best way possible.

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a simple story about a clerk who works for the Home Office in Whitehall during the Victorian era who was  saved by – of all things – a pocket watch from becoming a victim of a terrible bombing. He traces the origins of this watch back to a mysterious and enigmatic watchmaker on Filigree street, and from there, all sorts of mayhem ensues.

63202476-clockwork-wallpapers

WARNING: HEADING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY HERE. 

I didn’t quite know what to make of this book at first. By the time I thought to wonder what the hell I was reading, I was already halfway through the book. And that is a testament to the author’s talent as a writer. She can make even the most mundane of things seem interesting. 

And let me tell you, its very easy to judge this book as – as one reviewer on Goodreads so eloquently put it – a one-way ticket to Snoozeville. Those looking for heart-stopping action or a fully-formed plot would find it difficult to get through this book. On the surface, nothing really seems to be happening. Or at least, nothing important anyway.

I think this is one of those books that is more character-driven than plot-driven. The strength of the book lies not in its narrative but rather in the developing relationships between the characters, particularly that of Thaniel (said clerk) and Keita Mori (watchmaker).

There was a very clear chemistry between these two men, a kind of alchemical attraction that is evident in every interaction, even when they’re just sitting around sipping green tea. Their conversations were rapid fire and rife with secret glances and inside jokes; it felt like we, as readers, were being treated to a glimpse of something so unbearably intimate.

It was all so very subtly done that I didn’t even realise I was actually reading a love story until I REALISED I WAS READING A LOVE STORY.

Confession Time: I reread this book last night because it was one of those books that I sort of whizzed through because I was just so impatient to get to the ending. I was never really quite sure that I wasn’t just losing my mind and literally reading too much into things, such that I was seeing and feeling sexual tension where there was none.

But nope. No two ways about it, this book is a bloody romance novel, albeit a really subtle and well-crafted one.

Finding the romance amidst everything that was going on plot-wise was like, I don’t know, that first bite of chocolate truffle, or as Katy Perry once wrote in one of her songs, like eating hard candy with a surprise centre. I didn’t expect it, and it somehow felt more magical to find it because it was so unexpected (kind of like love itself, I suppose).

And the romance was just one of the many pleasant surprises in this book. There were endearing touches of whimsy everywhere, especially in Keita Mori’s clockwork inventions. Everything about the house on Filigree Street feels enchanting, amazing and well ahead of its time.

In fact, my third favourite character (and Thaniel and Mori win by a very narrow margin only by virtue of the fact that they’re ACTUAL human beings) is a mischievous sock-loving clockwork octopus named Katsu.

bryan-callahan-14-katsu
Photo credits to Brian Callahan (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rNDra)

That’s not to say that the book didn’t have its darker moments. It calls to question everything we know about time and the future, specifically our ability to predict it.

Don’t you guys find it mind-bending sometimes how one simple decision can alter our lives forever? Like how, if we decide to take the later train instead of the one we usually catch because we were running late because we decided to party on a weeknight the night before, we end up missing the chance to meet our future husband and therefore all our future children end up being unborn?

Doesn’t it freak you out sometimes how life seems to be made up of all these infinitesimal moments of chance and missed opportunities? 

It sure as hell freaks me out.

Anyway, I’ve gone on and on as usual when all I really wanted to say was that you all should give this book a chance. The reviews have been hit-or-miss so far, and I suppose its all a matter of taste, but I personally would vouch for it. And also, the cover is TO DIE FOR.

Keep an open mind dear readers and fellow bookworms. Open your heart to a lonely Japanese man with a mechanical pet octopus, and you will find yourself wanting to journey to Filigree street, and just like Thaniel, want to stay there forever,

FIVE STARS.

Posted in bloggers, Books, Fantasy, LGBT, relationships, romance

Book Review: Murmuration – TJ Klune

Ever read a book where you spent a good 10 to 15 minutes staring into space (wondering what the hell you just read) as soon as you turned the last page?

tumblr_oevt0qBSUI1s9a9yjo1_500

Welcome to the world of Murmuration. Its confusing, amazing, heartbreaking, fascinating, wonderful, traumatic and lovely all at the same time.

Its seriously f***ked up. 

This was recommended by a friend on Goodreads who thought it would be a worthy addition to the list of LGBT books on my bookshelf. I thought I’d be reading some fluffy love story that will make me feel all gooey inside after I’ve read it. I was reading this while on a birthday trip to Disneyland Paris, for crying out loud!

So there I was, all glowy and happy from a day of spending time with Mickey, Minnie and my favourite Disney Princesses (and super high on adrenaline after riding two rollercoasters in one afternoon), and I thought it would be a good idea to finish the evening reading something light, something that’s not so taxing on the brain cells. I was on holiday after all.

source

This book totally made my brain hurt. Is there such a thing as mental pain? Because I’m pretty sure that describes the sum of all my feelings towards this book.

I can’t even give you a synopsis because I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s just say that I thought this was a story about a small town boy (living in a lonely world) in the 1950s who falls in love with another small town boy and that they would have to fight to overcome the prejudices that were prevalent at the time.

I started to get warm and fuzzy feelings from the development of the romance (I do love a good friends-to-lovers story) and from the level of acceptance that surrounded these two human beings. I thought, my my, what an awesome story, there is still hope for mankind after all.

giphy-downsized

I don’t know when the vague sense of unease started to creep in. I don’t know where I started to get an inkling that there’s something not quite right with this story. Amidst the cute diner scenes, fourth of July picnics and the charms of walking home hand in hand in the dark, I started to feel like this was all too good to be true. There’s something seriously wrong with this story.

Okay confession time.

I skipped ahead to the ending. 

Okay, okay, I’m sorry. But COME ON, have you ever had the distinct experience of reading a book by TJ Klune? The man doesn’t have it in him to be brief, okay? His books are incredibly lengthy, and while the writing is good there are moments when you just want to yell at the man to get a damned editor because surely there is a better, SHORTER, way of writing a story.

Just get the bloody hell on with it.

Anyway. I skipped to the ending because I know I won’t be able to sleep a wink without knowing for sure which one of my crazy theories were correct. I was sure that it was either one or the other. I have read a lot of books and its very rare that a plot line is able to surprise me. I’m usually always spot on with my predictions.

I was so far off the mark with this one that its not even funny.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve been living under a rock or what, but I thought this was one of the most unique plots I’ve ever read in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such an insanely fascinating story in my entire life.

Does it have plot holes? Sure. Absolutely. Enough to rival the holes on the ozone layer in fact.

Does it make sense? Hell, no. It doesn’t. It requires a lengthy stretch of the imagination to even conceive that this book is within the realms of possibility.

What it was, though, was vastly entertaining. It will keep you on your toes, constantly thinking up explanations for the things that are happening. It will drive you crazy wondering what the hell is going on. It will keep you in a heightened sense of dread, especially when things are going so well for the main protagonists, because you are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It will make you cry. There’s all sorts of feels in this book, and the ending is bittersweet in the way really good stories are (Hello, Inception). It will make you feel like maybe its okay to not have a happily-ever-after, as long as you can be happy for now.

I‘m pretty sure this book took a little piece of my heart with it. 

Let me just say, in conclusion, that it constantly amazes me to think about what the human mind is capable of. It is capable of so much invention and innovation as the seat of our intelligence. It is capable of so much destruction when common sense is overruled by emotion, such as pain.

It is capable of dreaming up stories such as this.

We can spend a hundred years studying the human mind and I don’t think we will ever reach the limit of its capabilities, nor will we ever fully answer the mysteries inherent in the minor miracle that is our brain. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we’re not meant to overanalyse how we think, how we feel and how we came to be who we are.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in this book, its that there’s very little point in examining and cross-examining why we make the choices we make and why we live the way we do. That’s not the point.

The point is simply to live, the best way you know how. 

 

 

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!