Posted in Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews

Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus

Its often hard to objectively review the quality of a book when its subject matter resonates with you so much.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have to do that with Lessons in Chemistry because its one of those rare unicorns that appear every once in a while: a book with a story worth telling that also happens to be incredibly well-written.

There are so many things I want to say about this book, so many threads to pull, that I hardly know where to start. I think I should just start with the main character: Elizabeth Zott.

Elizabeth strives first and foremost to be herself, in all things. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a character who is so uncompromising in her principles and beliefs (sometimes to the point of lunacy, depending on who you ask). She will make her own way in the world and refuses to use her relationships with others to get ahead. She will raise her kid her own way, do sports in her own way, and dammit, she will cook in her own way – using chemistry apparatus and processes should she so desire if only because it brings her the most joy and pleasure to do it that way.

I think it’s the hardest thing to do, to accept who you are and not be afraid to show it to the world. The world can be such a harsh and judgmental place. Who amongst us can say that we are immune to other people’s opinions about us? We all want to be liked and accepted and to be considered normal, so we tend to hide away little pieces of who we are, and adopt other people’s beliefs and wants as our own, in order to fit in.

We don’t even see the danger of doing that until it’s too late and we’ve lost all sense of who we are and we wake up one morning and we realise we don’t even know how we really want our breakfast eggs to be cooked (thank you Julia Roberts for the analogy, I’ve always preferred sunny-side up).

Elizabeth doesn’t do that, or at least she doesn’t do it to the extent of what I would do when faced with the pressures of society. The further I travel down this unconventional path that I find myself in – single, reasonably attractive, reasonably intelligent, childless, career-driven, alone but not lonely, finding fulfilment outside of romantic relationships – the more I need heroes like her to tell me that it doesn’t matter so much what the world thinks of me as long as I can still look at the mirror and like what I see.

After all, Erasmus once said: it is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.

I don’t want this to be post to get too political because my book reviews are really all about me (if anyone has a problem with that, its my blog, so whatever). I don’t really consider myself a feminist mostly because I think the word has become overly used and abused by the woke generation that I fear it has lost its meaning, but also because calling myself one makes me feel like a fraud. I don’t think I can live up to those ideals, and I don’t feel qualified to comment on issues such as equality and fair wages.

I will say, however, that I am grateful to, and will support in my own way, all the women who have fought the battles that needed to be fought so that I can live in a world where I can be whoever I want to be. Even if it’s just by reading, reviewing and highlighting important messages in books like Lessons in Chemistry.

These women have paved the way, so that its now normal that I work in a speciality that used to be male-dominated, and I am able to make opinions and decisions within that speciality that matter and make a difference.

I’m grateful that because of those women I have a voice that’s heard (perhaps too much and too loudly at times) on a regular basis, and that I can be sure that a male colleague on the same Agenda for Change pay scale as I do receives the same amount of wages, and that this isn’t determined by the fact that he has a penis and I have ovaries.

And that’s all I will have to say about that. Back to the book review.

Its tempting to think of this book as a rom-com. It started out as one, and maybe that’s why even as I neared the end I was still hoping for a love story, for Elizabeth to have her happy ending.

Now, how bloody hypocritical and reductive is that sentence?

I, of all people, should know better. I should know more than anyone that your life and happiness isn’t defined by the relationships you have with other people. Haven’t I struggled and spoke out against people who choose to diminish (even if unintentional) what I have done with my life purely because I remain unmarried at 34?

Elizabeth did have her love story. She had a love story with the women whose lives she touched through what other people (men, mostly) thought was just another cooking show. She inspired them to learn, and showed them that they can and should expect more of themselves, and that includes learning chemistry if they want it.

It was a love story with the men and women she formed genuine friendships with, who eventually became part of her unconventional family.

It was a love story with a dog named six-thirty and a little girl named Mad, who are both too intelligent for their own good.

And it was a love story with herself, that starred herself and the dreams that she never gave up on, no matter how hard things got at some point.

In the end, just like Nigella Lawson said in the blurb, I am totally devastated to have finished this. It was such a fun book to read, importing just the right amount of gravitas when it comes to things that matter while still being able to have a laugh and not take itself too seriously.

There should be more books like this, written by women, for women, celebrating women. It’s a privilege to have read it, just like it’s a privilege to be a woman fighting to prove that I have a place in this world.

Men, set the table, the women far too busy putting our own stamp on the world to bother with dinner. Lol

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, Music, pop culture, relationships

It Was Rare, and I Remember It All Too Well

Time check, its 4am on day 3 of my mandatory hotel quarantine and I’m slowly starting to go insane. I’m surprised my sister and I haven’t killed each other yet after being forced to tolerate each other’s company in such close quarters. I love my sister, and I’m sure she loves me too, but siblings were not meant to live in each other’s pockets all the damn time, especially if one of those siblings (AKA me) has a penchant for playing Taylor Swift songs on repeat.

Could you blame me though?

Ms. Swift has just released a re-recording of her Grammy-nominated album Red, which contains, among other hit songs, what is generally considered to be the best song she’s ever written: the magnificence that is All Too Well. And, just because she is the Queen of Extra, she’s released a 10-minute version of this ode to autumnal heartbreak and dancing in refrigerator lights and red scarfs, accompanied by a truly harrowing short film which she directed and starred in.

Since the song was released, I find my thoughts straying time and time again to Jake Gyllenhaal, widely believed to be the inspiration behind this song. It truly isn’t a good time to be Jake right now. He is being roasted in all corners of the internet, and is the subject of hilarious tweets and memes on social media. As a self-confessed Swiftie, I should be all over this. But more often than not, I find myself cringing just a little bit at the outpouring of hate and vitriol towards the other half of this supposed relationship.

Before I get blasted for supporting the patriarchy and defending a guy that the majority of the Twitter population now consider a scumbag, let me explain. I am not taking away Taylor’s right to express her feelings through her chosen medium. She’s a gifted songwriter, and that is due in large part to her ability to draw from her own experience and turn them into lyrics that perfectly capture moments that we can all relate to. When you listen to her songs, it makes you feel less alone, and less stupid. Because if someone like her can go through something like that and survive, then maybe there’s hope for you.

I think my discomfort stems from the fact that all this palaver over what is essentially – READ MY LIPS – a three-month relationship (yep, it boggles the mind) hits a little close to home. Taylor is re-treading the stomping grounds of her old heartbreak, the added verses to All Too Well giving us a better insight into what she went through whilst in that relationship.

This all happened 10 years ago and yet she’s still singing about it, still talking about it, and even though she’s moved on and is presumably a lot happier now, all evidence suggests that she will probably never get over it. She will be carrying those Mysterio-shaped scars to her grave, singing about little kids in glasses and twin-sized beds until her last dying breath.

And damn me if I’m not able to relate to that just a little.

We all have them, okay? Whether its the one that got away, or the ex that dumped you in the most brutal manner possible, or (in my case) the unrequited love that is the One Great Love of my life, we all have that one person we constantly bring up in conversations, whose name sounds different when it passes through our lips, whose impact peppers our lives even as the years pass without any meaningful contact from them whatsoever.

They become our inspiration and our muse. I for sure know that I’m at my best as a writer when I’m writing about Him, and I write about Him a lot. If everything I’ve written about that period of my life were to be compiled into a single volume it would be as thick as War and Peace.

At first, I wrote about him as a way of letting go of the past and all the feelings that came with it. There was a lot to unload. Love is at its most devastating when its unreciprocated, after all. Then, I wrote about him as a way of validating that it was love, albeit the one-sided kind. I think I wanted to convince myself that I didn’t waste my best years chasing after someone who could never love me back.

I felt the need to justify why I shouldn’t feel regret that I held on longer than I probably should have, and that at the end of the day it was better to have loved and lost and blah blah blah.

Then there came a time when writing about it just became fun. Yes, there are certain memories that still make me cringe, that make me want to go back in time so I can tell my younger self not to be so bloody stupid. BUT. There is a certain kind of exhilaration that comes over you when you realise that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore, that you can actually laugh about it and make fun of the experiences that have shaped so much of the person you become.

People always say that success is the sweetest revenge, but I think laughter is right up there with it.

I think a part of me objects to all this airing of dirty laundry in public. There should only be two people in a relationship, but we live in an age where we invite so many people (too many people, in my opinion) into what is essentially a sacred and private thing, regardless of whether you’re a celebrity or not. I think the best thing Taylor has ever done was to NOT talk about her current partner, and I think the older I get the more value I see in keeping aspects of my private life, well, private.

There’s a line towards the end of the 10-minute version that goes like this:

Just between us, do you remember it all too well?

I think that more than anything encapsulates Taylor’s original intentions for this song. Sure, the savvy businesswoman in her probably anticipated (and even encouraged) the publicity that came with the speculation over what happened with Jake, but the 31-year old who is reflecting back on the relationship shines through in the intimacy of those last few lyrics.

It’s worth mentioning that the last few verses of the 10-minute version felt more nostalgic than angry, and it gave me chills the first time I listened to it, and not just because I’m genetically programmed to love a Jack Antonoff production. No, its the same kind of feeling I get when I listen to Gwen Stefani’s Cool.

Its the peace that comes with knowing that when all is said and done, you’re okay with it all. Because at the end of the day, cheesy as it sounds, maybe it is better to have loved and lost and blah blah blah.

So here’s to you, you know who you are. Here’s to the memories, and for remembering them all too well.

Posted in dating, poetry, relationships, women

Table For One

“Can I help you madam?”
the server asks
as she steps
through
the automatic doors.

As if a single beam
of stage-light
has shone
on
the vacant space
by her side,
she starts
to sweat,
self-conscious,
wary
of being judged
by this stranger.

This used to be easy,
something to aspire to,
a defiant gesture
in the face of
society’s expectations.
A bold statement,
I am
a
strong
independent
woman.

I don’t need a man
to share my meals with.
I have
a perfectly
working
digestive system,
thank you very much.

Now,
it felt like there was
a ticking clock
over her head
telling the world:
“This woman
has reached
the limits
of her best-before date.”

“Madam,”
the server persists.
“Do you have a
reservation?”
She shakes her head.
“That’s alright,” he says,
“Would you like
a table
for two?”

He asks this
as if it were a given,
as if it were the norm,
and it probably was,
and she was the odd one.
But godammit,
she just wanted to have
some kimchi pancakes.

Taking a deep breath,
she held her head high
and said,
“No.
Table for one.”
And she looked him in the eye,
daring him
to judge.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, relationships, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Kingdoms – Natasha Pulley

Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns and flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

What. If.

Two words that independent of each other don’t amount to much but when combined, form one of the most powerful phrases in the English language.

As I grow older, and with lockdown causing me to have A LOT of time in my hands, I often pause and wonder about what could have been if I had made different choices, if I had chosen to go left instead of right, if I had walked instead of taken the tube on one of the days when I felt lazy, or if I had invested in Twitter when it was just another start-up.

What if I had never met this person, or never fallen in love, or if I’d had the balls to tell the guy I fancied I had feelings for him?

What if COVID never happened? I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about the opportunities not taken, the road no one got to travel, and the lost acquaintances, friendships and relationships that never had the chance to form because of the year we all spent apart instead of together.

The Kingdoms is a book that feels like one long episode of What if. Emphasis on long, because this is not a book for the fainthearted, clocking in at just under 500 pages. However, let me just put it out there that I couldn’t care less what her critics say, I have a soft spot for Natasha Pulley’s writing. Do some of the scenes meander? Are there times when you feel like nothing’s really happening? Is too much importance given to making tea and just sitting side by side with the person you love? Yes, yes, and bloody hell YES.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You see, even in a plot as ambitious, twisty and thought-provoking as the one we have here (imagine a world where England had lost the Battle of Trafalgar and Napoleon had been made emperor), what Natasha achieves time and time again in all of her novels is a sense of intimacy. The kind that lives in the silence of words that need not be said, that kind that finds happiness in simply being near a person, that loves without conditions, understands without judgment, gives with no expectations and trusts, with no reason or proof that the trust is earned or deserved.

Her characters are always well developed. I can’t explain it, but because of the patient way she introduces them to readers, and the way she lets everything unfold without rushing us, allowing us to discover what we each love in the Joe Tournier’s, Missouri Kite’s and (still my favourite) Keita Mori’s of the world, I always end up feeling like I really know these people, and I end up falling in love with each of them, every single time.

I feel obligated to just drop a few lines that would actually be considered a proper book review rather than just me gushing about how great this book is. The premise is reminiscent of The Man in the High Castle, and I spent about a week watching the series just because I was inspired to give it another go after reading this book. I found it just as boring as the first time I bothered to watch the first episode. Great premise, terrible execution.

The Kingdoms, in contrast, was so well-crafted and well-plotted, and all the elements just fit. It was atmospheric, like all of Natasha’s works are. I could almost feel the chill in my bones, the salt air and the breeze coming from the ocean. I could smell the gunpowder from enemy fires and feel the smoke in my throat. And do not get me started on the feels. Everything was just so painfully beautiful, sometimes I had to stop reading to keep myself from getting overwhelmed.

If the superlatives weren’t enough to clue you in, then let me say explicitly that I really really loved this book. There is a different sort of happiness that can be derived from the simple things, and at the core of this fantastical book is a simple story of love being love, and being strong enough to withstand the literal test of time. Despite being Katsu-less (bloody hell, I loved that octopus), The Kingdoms is still a masterpiece, and one that I will quite happily (and probably) re-read over and over again.

Rating: 5 stars.

Posted in poetry, relationships

The Seat

Today,
I saved you a seat.
And watched
with bated breath,
as you came in.
Late,
as usual.

You catch my eye
And I wonder
what you see
in the seconds
it takes
to get from the door
to the seat next to mine.

Do you see
The hope,
warring with fear
and the dawning realisation
that you are the tide,
ebbing further and further
with each return.

You are the minutes
and seconds
of every day,
slipping through my fingers.
I cling to the light,
but the sunset always comes.

In your eyes,
I see restraint
a constant push
and pull
toeing the line
between leading me on
and breaking my heart.

Is today that day?
I want to break out of my skin
the moment
feels infinite.
Can you walk a little faster,
Please?

Finally,
You reach the seat
You pause,
breathe in
and sat.
I breathe out,
Relieved.

A reprieve
A stay of execution
And tomorrow
This dance
starts
all over again.

Posted in Lifestyle, relationships, romance

It’s a Love Story, baby, just say yes…

I am and have always been a firm believer in the magic of possibilities. I think the promise of an indefinable something happening on any given day, something that might have the power to change my life forever, is what makes me get out of bed every morning.

It’s why I look back on the period between late 2008 and early 2009 with the utmost fondness. Back then, I had just finished college and was waiting for the exam results that would give me full license to practise as a nurse in my country. It was an in-between time where I no longer had the daily pressures of school work to keep me busy and stressed, and before there was any real pressure to find a job.

it was a time for dreaming and making plans, for self-examination and reinvention. I went on a diet, started an exercise regime and slowly started to shed the excess weight that have somehow accumulated through four years of eating away my mental and emotional stress. I had started the process of getting over the One Great Love of my life and have come to accept that there are some things you just can’t get through sheer will and effort.

I had just started to realise that really, you shouldn’t have had to work that hard to get someone to love you.

I cleaned out my closet to make room for clothes that would reflect the new me (special shout out to Ms. Bullyshanty for giving me my first makeover!) and I read books that i didn’t have the chance to read before because I was too busy studying for one exam or the other. The Twilight series had just come out and, like everyone else (ANY WOMAN WHO CLAIMS ANY DIFFERENT IS EITHER IN DENIAL OR A LIAR) I became obsessed with sparkly Edward Cullen and his borderline toxic relationship with the intrepid Bella Swan.

More importantly, in 2008, the great Taylor Swift released her smash hit Love Story for the first time, and it was a song that seemed to capture everything I felt and everything I dreamed about during that time period. I dreamt about my future and yearned for a starring role in my own love story, as opposed to being just a bit part in someone else’s story. Hearing those banjo strings and fiddle melodies, and that slightly nasally voice T.Swift used to have back then, always takes me back to that period, when I fully believed that anything could happen.

Fast forward 13 years later and Taylor Swift has re-released a 2021 version of Love Story, and I find myself wanting to put into words what it means for me to hear this particular version at this particular point in time. 2021 could not be more different from 2008. Its not overstating it to say that for most people the well of possibilities surrounding life has just about run dry. It has been the most dreadful couple of years. Most of us have been too busy surviving this virus to even think about things like romance and starring in our own love stories.

Even without the pandemic, it would have been hard to maintain the same wide-eyed belief in fairy tales that we used to have when we were younger. Taylor herself has gone through a turbulent time in the intervening years since she first released Love Story. She, along with the rest of us who have grown into adulthood in the past decade, has realised that love stories have teeth. They bloody well can bite you in the ass if you’re not careful. Oh, and Prince Charming? That dude has more baggage than a Chinese heiress on holiday. That castle that you’ve always dreamed about? It comes with a monthly mortgage and repair bills that you’ll have to work extra shifts in a busy hospital ward in order to afford.

Happily-ever-afters are not a given. The scene doesn’t fade to black after you find The One. Relationships are hard work. After the glow has dimmed and that halo surrounding your partner has been tarnished by the number of times you fight over keeping the toilet seat up, or the amount of hair that accumulates on the carpet on a daily basis (enough to make a wig if you’re anything like me) or who gets to throw the bins out this week, you’d probably be scratching your head wondering, is this love? Is that what they fought wars over and write songs about?

In a way, thought, it kinda IS. What I hear behind the more mature version of Love Story is the wisdom that comes from knowing that, more than the fireworks and ballgowns, its the life you build with someone that really makes up the fairy tale. Because at the end of the day, you want something real instead of something ideal. You want someone there for you when you feel like the whole world has turned against you. You want the quiet laughters over inside jokes that only the two of you would find funny.

And you want someone who will clean the flat with you when the party is over and everyone else has left.

You don’t always get the kind of love story you dream about when you were younger. But if you’re lucky, you get something better. I think mine is in a perpetual state of rewrites and is still under construction, but I’m mature enough to not cry a million tears over it, not even today, on the holiest of days for couples (and the most dreaded for those who are, as Emma Watson would say, self-partnered). I still believe its out there. And you might spend ages trying to find it, but goddamn the whole messy, terrifying, painful, contradictory pile of shit that is love is worth searching and waiting for.

P.S. To everyone who is single today and perhaps feeling like the weight of that is just a little bit heavier when you see other people receiving flowers or kissing on the streets for no reason, ITS OKAY. It’s just a day. You will still be single tomorrow. Lol.

And you know what, the very definition of what love is (and what love stories are) keeps changing every day anyway. To me, every day you live your life is a love story, regardless of whether or not it has Prince Charming in it. Your story will have friends, laughter, adventures, growth, and best of all, it will have possibilities.

It always comes down to possibilities, and that indefinable something.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Posted in Books, Fantasy, relationships, romance

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

Sometimes late at night (and with frighteningly increasing regularity this year) I would lie awake and tick off a mental checklist of the things I didn’t get to do today. Like, I’d promise myself I would do all my laundry, but then I had to work an extra hour here and an extra hour there just to finish off a project, so I’d leave laundry for another day.

Sometimes I’d run through a list of things I didn’t get to do for the week. I’d promise myself I’d go for a run, or start an exercise routine, but then the weather just wouldn’t cooperate, and I’d find myself working an extra shift or two to pay off some of my more pressing credit card bills, and before I know it another week has gone by without me doing any of the things I’d promised myself I’d do, so I make another promise to try again next week.

And then there’s the plans that I made for this year. I was going to go skydiving with my friends, travel with my parents, go on more hikes, be more adventurous, write a book, meet new people, maybe start dating again…and then coronavirus happened and those plans had to be put on hold. And with all the uncertainty surrounding this pandemic, there’s really no telling when, if ever, life will regain some semblance of normalcy.

I guess my point is that I have always been morbidly obsessed with how much time I have to spend, and not just in the sense of the minutiae of daily living but on a much grander scale. Some days I feel like I’ve been in my 30s forever, and some days I feel like I’m being propelled at breakneck speed towards the end of days and I’m not ready for the end to come just yet.

I’m not ready because I feel like I have only just begun to live. There are so many things I want to do, so much I want to experience, and one of my biggest fears is that I will never have enough time to do all of them, that my life is going to be a column of unticked boxes, full of unfinished business.

Wow, that was morbid.

I guess I’m thinking about all of this now because The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is a book that compels you to reflect on the passage of time and what it means to really live, not just the eking out of existence that passes for living these days. This is the kind of book that reminds us to not spend too much of our time worrying about the inconsequential things, because it might cause us to miss out on the things that really matter.

The trick, really, is being able to separate which one is which.

Mostly this book will just make you think about life, how weird and wonderful it is, what gift it is to be alive, how we waste so much time treating it like an afterthought, consuming it like a Big Mac you eat on the go rather than savouring it like four-course meal its meant to be.

It will make you think about how sometimes life gets a little too much, how it all becomes a bit loud sometimes, how – for some people, life feels like a storm that will never end, and you just want it all to end.

But you shouldn’t.

Because as hard as it gets sometimes, the storm always passes. And you get the moments when life feels like that rare, perfect first date that you never want to end. You make it stretch, you go for one more drink, dance one last dance, walk all the way to the Tube station, have another good night kiss, decide to take a train heading in the opposite direction to where you live just so you could have more time with that person. If you’re lucky, that’s what life should feel like.

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is a tribute to the moments you wish would never end.

This really is a beautiful book. Objectively, it perhaps could have done with a bit more trimming. Maybe it was a bit predictable. There were times when I felt like I’d read it all before. But those last hundred pages packed so much of an emotional punch that objectivity just went flying through the window. And V.E. Schwab writes so beautifully. She has a way of writing chapters that make you feel like you are being cocooned by the warmth of her prose.

The characters may have started out bland and one-dimensional, but you get to the end and you realise how complex and layered they really are, and in a strangely fitting way, I ended the book feeling like I never really understood them at all. The ending was ambiguous in the most beautiful of ways. To paraphrase a line from the book, the ending felt more like ellipses than an actual period. The story isn’t finished, even if it would now be left to the reader to imagine how each character’s fate would turn out.

I highly recommend this book. 4 out of 5 stars.

Addendum: Just to say, I know its funny that in a book that is probably more about being seen, and leaving your mark, and being remembered, I spent an entire blog post talking about life and the passage of time, put such is the magic of reading fiction. It will resonate with readers in different ways and for different reasons. I guess the only important thing is that it resonates with readers at all.

Posted in bloggers, Books, relationships, science fiction, science fiction, Writing

Book Review: The Garden and Other Stories – Aaron Ramos

In my head, I always equated the science fiction genre with weird looking aliens invading the earth and machines taking over the world and sending mankind into extinction. I was quite adamant in my belief that these are things I’d never be interested in reading. I’ve gotten better at expanding my horizons when it comes to my literary choices, but I’m a creature of habit; throughout the years I’ve stuck with the genres that are almost guaranteed to tickle my fancy – YA and romance to name a few.

I picked up The Garden, a collection of short stories written by Aaron Ramos, because I was fortunate enough to have gotten a preview, a taster really, of the kind of stories that this new author wants to share with the world. Elevated was one of the first sci-fi stories I’ve ever read, and I enjoyed it so much that afterwards I questioned my sanity at having ignored this genre for so long. Clearly, I’ve been missing out.

The book opens with Video Game Theory, which is really a story about a father’s love for his daughter – a truly emotional journey that still haunts me now, nearly a full month after I first read it. I’m a very emotional reader anyway, and to those of you who read my reviews quite often, this isn’t anything new, but as I read that story I was sobbing my heart out and clutching my chest in a way I haven’t done since I read The Kite Runner. Maybe it was just because I read it during the pandemic when I was missing my own father, but I thought it was just a real gut punch of a story. The book then closes with Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a short story that questions the very nature of our existence, exploring life’s often unanswerable questions with wit and biting humour that I’ve come to realise is the author’s signature style.

A lot of thought was put into the pacing, the sequencing, and I think even the order in which the stories are to be read. I like how one story just naturally flows, one into the other. There was always a sense of continuity and connectivity in all the stories, and I think a lot of what makes it so cohesive is rooted in Aaron’s point of view, his unique perspective of the world, and the kind of messages that he wants to send out to his readers through his writing.

In some respects, this book felt to me like a social commentary on the dangers of capitalism and the effect man is having on the environment. In other parts, it was a call for us to recognise that, despite our differences, we are all the same, and the things that make us all different should be celebrated rather than discriminated against. Considering that this book was published well before the Black Lives Matter movement, I think the author showed incredible foresight, not to mention insight, into the issues currently affecting society.

I am not an expert of this genre, obviously, but I thought the stories were well-researched; they were believable because they were founded on real scientific concepts. They capture the imagination and will make readers imagine a world that is somewhat similar to our own but also somehow different. However, what makes the stories even stronger, in my opinion, is that through it all Aaron never loses his grip on the human element of his stories. Strip away the robots, the advanced technologies, the chemical experiments and the fantastical elements and you find that at the heart of it are the very things that make us fundamentally human: love, loss, and the basic human need to understand and to be understood.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Posted in fitness, relationships, Self-Discovery

The Bikini

Last night I went out for a little celebratory dinner with my team at work. It normally takes me at least an hour to prepare for going out because I believe in always looking your best on any occasion, and probably because I’m really really vain (self-awareness, people, this is what it looks like).

I went to my closet, which I’ve downscaled by about half last year. I threw away anything I haven’t worn in the past 6 months, which includes all those size 8 dresses that I’ve stupidly been hanging on to out of some delusional hope that I’ll ever be able to wear them again.

I picked out and put on one of my favourite jumpsuits, placed my hair in a ponytail and accessorised it with a gold clip on the side for added flair, wore comfortable flats, bit of eyeliner, my signature red lipstick and I was done. 10 minutes flat and I was ready to go.

Now let’s talk about what I would have normally done before I started out on this new positive body image mindset that I’m trying really hard to cultivate within myself.

First I would have agonised for ages over what to wear, and even when I’ve made a decision I would have changed my mind at least three times, because when I look at the mirror all I would see were the bulges, the gut, the protruding tummy, and the thighs that looked like they would be substantial enough to feed an entire third world country.

I would have then gone through my arsenal of tricks, and I do hope I’m not violating some sacred female code of here. But let’s be real. Who among us could deny owning a nice pair (or two) of spanx? Think about all those tummy-control knickers you own, the ones that promise to be so effective you’d feel as if you’ve had liposuction (LIES). Think about the bras that promise to give you so much lift and support that you’d feel like you have porn star boobs (WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?), those corsets that enable you to fit into that overpriced but really sexy LBD (little black dress, hello).

The reality is that you would probably feel confident and sexy for all of 5 seconds. You’d make your grand entrance and people will ooh and aah and tell you how good you look…before they turn their attention back to their gin and tonics (where it rightfully belongs) and move on with their lives.

5 seconds of admiration and applause, in return for a whole evening feeling like a trussed up chicken, squeezed, tied and stuffed, ready to go into the oven. Is it REALLY worth it?

I am not denying the power of a good outfit. But the power lies in how it makes you feel. It should make you feel confident enough to take on the world. I don’t think it will make you feel confident to force yourself (squeeze yourself, I should say) into a size 10 dress when you’re really a size 14. I don’t care how good you think you look. If oxygen can’t get into your lungs and you’re unable to breathe properly because of your vanity, well, cyanosis is not a good look on anyone.

I’d like to end this with a little anecdote of me and the bikini. The Bikini used to be my mortal enemy. It represented every insecurity I’ve ever had about myself. In the Philippines, where being a size 4 is the norm, if you’re plus-sized and you had the audacity to wear a bikini, people would look at you from head to foot, and titter behind your back because, come on, who do you think you are? How dare you show your lack of abs and your legs full of cellulite?

When I moved to the UK I realised that over here people don’t give a shit about what you wore. Live and let live. If you want to wear a bikini then for godsake wear one. Between global warming and modern slavery and all the other important issues the world faces, IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER in the grand scheme of things.

The Bikini is a metaphor for all the unfair expectations we women impose on ourselves. Like, honestly, 80% of the female population will not have Victoria’s Secret Angels bodies. Men will just have to deal with it. Its not like each and every one of them are Henry Cavills or Chris Hemsworths themselves. We are all wonderfully, imperfectly ordinary. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Getting to the point where you’re comfortable with your body is a long and tedious process. One day you feel like you’ve made a giant leap forward, the next day you’re back to castigating yourself in front of the mirror. Its a constant uphill battle to focus and celebrate on the good parts of yourself. For some reason as human beings we seem to be programmed to see the negative first. We really are our own worst enemies, aren’t we?

The only thing I can say based on my experience is to bear in mind that there are things more important than weight and physical appearances. Like enjoying what you do. Like learning. Like finding fulfilment in doing your life’s passion, whatever that may be.

Every day, I try to find at least three things I like about myself, physically and non-physically. I like my skin. I like my teeth. Today I’m having a good hair day. My blood pressure has been normal all week. I make people laugh (even when I don’t intend to). I can write a blog that is as long as an academic essay in 10 minutes, that’s a talent isn’t it?

Be brave. Wear a bikini. Go parading down Oxford Circus naked (or maybe not). Set yourself free from caring about what other people think. They don’t matter. Besides, the only people worth keeping will think you’re awesome regardless of how you look and what you wear, even a bikini.