Posted in family, Reviews

Mary Poppins Returns…and so does my childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find that really sad.

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

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

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

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

And that’s where Mary Poppins Returns come in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Becoming – Michelle Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Books, 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, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Love In The Time of Cholera

Its funny how some books turn out to be exactly what you expect it to be, and how others  can totally disarm you by telling a story that you didn’t know you needed to be told.

When I first picked up this book, maybe a couple of years ago, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. For some reason, it just didn’t feel like my cup of tea. I was told that this was one of the greatest love stories of all time, so it really should have been up my alley.

But whether it was because I read a book by this author when I was younger that confused me so much that it put me off reading any more of his works, or simply because I didn’t feel like reading a grand love story at the time, for some reason I couldn’t find the will to start the book.

So I sold it at a car boot sale and told myself if its meant to be, the book will find its way back to me, just like in the movie Serendipity.

Fast forward to November of 2018 and I was perusing the used books section of Powell’s in Portland of all places, and I came across a battered copy of Love In The Time of Cholera. It wasn’t MY copy of the book of course, this isn’t a movie people, John Cusack will not be making an appearance here.

But it finally felt like the right time to read this book that I’ve been hearing so much about. I was ready to read about the grand passions of a girl and a boy experiencing love for the first time, going through trials and tribulations before finally getting their happy ending.

So imagine my surprise when I realised this book was essentially about growing old, and finding – at the twilight of your life when imminent death is all but a certainty – a love that’s been “waiting” for you to acknowledge it. Like, I’m sorry, but I totally wasn’t expecting THAT.

Instead of the sanitised scenes found in most romance novels, where its probably a crime for Prince Charming to fart or take a shit, we have graphic descriptions of sagging skin and bowel movements. There was a scene about ENEMAS for crying out loud. Why in the world were people so enamoured of this book? What is so romantic about putting cream on someone else’s bedsores? If I wanted to read about that, I’d crack open one of my nursing textbooks.

The further on I get with the book, though, the more I realised how similar I was to Florentino Ariza, the male protagonist of the story. He thinks love is all about the grand passions and poetic love letters and midnight serenades. He has kept the flame of unrequited love going for fifty one years, nine months and four days, and he prides himself on having suffered that long in the name of true love.

That’s not to say he’s been completely abstinent. Love doesn’t preclude a man’s need for sex after all (insert eyeroll here), but he justifies his actions by telling himself that while he has shared his body freely, his heart has only ever belonged to Fermina Daza.

Fermina Daza in contrast is much more sensible. For me, its through her eyes and through her story that we get a more realistic picture of what it is to be in love.

Its through the description of her marriage that I realise why this book has won not only a Nobel Prize but also the hearts of those who truly understood what the book was trying to say. Now I’m not very good at conveying something I feel so strongly about, but I think its important for me to try in the case of this book.

You see, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from this brilliant piece of work is that love is at its most beautiful when its real. The secret of long-standing marriages is that the couple has found a partnership that goes way beyond initial attraction and chemistry.

Its the kind of partnership that withstands the test of time, that means you are able to love your spouse even when you can’t stand the sight or idea of them (something that I think is bound to happen when you’re sharing your life with someone).

Love is about the daily minutiae of married life, the many opportunities you have to learn about one another’s habits to the point that it becomes as automatic as breathing to wash someone’s bottom when they can no longer do it themselves.

Love is about the ups and downs, the many twists and turns, and its about the personal sacrifices you make in the name of something that is bigger than yourself.

Love is about the immense loneliness of losing the person who’s been by your side through the years, and how you feel the pain of their absence in a way that is similar to how an amputee feels about their lost limb.

Love knows no time, and certainly no age. It isn’t the sole property of the young. Love can find you in the most unexpected moments, often when you’ve stopped looking. It may not be how you imagined it to be, but it will be love all the same, even when you’re so close to dying that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime, and anyplace.

I will not spoil the book for those that haven’t read it yet, but the one thing I will say is that it was an incredible joy to read it. The writing flowed so beautifully and it is immensely quotable of course.

This is definitely one of those books that you should read at least once in this lifetime.

Three out of five stars.

Posted in bloggers, Medical, Politics, Reviews

Book Review: This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay (and also, A Love Letter to the NHS)

As someone who will officially become British in the next 6 months (after dropping a whopping £5000 on residency and naturalisation fees of course), I now feel like I have the authority to list some of the things from my adopted country that I’m most proud of.

1. Harry Potter

2. The very commendable ability to insult someone while still managing to sound polite

3. Scones, clotted cream and jam (yum!)

4. Intermediate rent for key workers

5. The Tube (believe me, I’ve travelled a lot and I’ve yet to find a more extensive or well-run transportation service)

6. That damned accent that makes everything sound like a Shakespearean play, even when someone is telling you to sod off

7. The NHS

This post, and this book review, is really an ode to number 7. I freakin’ love the NHS. Call me naive, but I think its a modern miracle. And I say this both from the perspective of working in it, and from having been a patient needing its services.

I arrived in London seven years ago, and within the first four months I managed to get myself bitten by my landlady’s dog to such an extent that it necessitated actual surgery.

Up to this point I had never been admitted to a hospital, never had a cannula put in and have never had to take anything more serious than the occasional antibiotic. Unless you count the cholesterol-lowering medications but hey, I blame genetics for that.

ANYWAY. I was totally unfamiliar with the country’s health system. Heck, I didn’t even know where or what my nearest hospital was. I had to take a bus to a certain hospital in North London and hoped someone there would know what the hell needed to be done with me and my gaping leg wound.

I arrived at the A and E and was seen within the hour (I was later to learn that this was an exception rather than the rule). I had a line put in for the first time in my life, was given antibiotics and was asked, quite stupidly in my opinion, if I cared about the appearance of the leg.

Being somewhat vain about my legs, I said of course with an admirably controlled level of incredulity that such a thing needed to even be asked. I was then informed that in that case I would need to head to another hospital which specialised in plastics and that I would most likely need surgery.

Off I go, taking the Victoria Line and changing at Green Park to take the Jubilee line, stopping somewhere in the general vicinity of Hampstead before taking the bus to get to where I needed to go. I got to the hospital and was scheduled for a day surgery procedure the next day.

On the day of the surgery I was seen by a very lovely and good-looking plastic registrar. I would have given him consent to do anything and everything but all he wanted was my ok to do a washout +/- skin graft procedure. I was wheeled into the anaesthetic room and asked to count backwards from 10. And that was the last thing I remembered before waking up in the recovery room an hour later.

After a couple of hours, I was discharged with take-home meds, dressing instructions and a smile. I then took my very stressed mother and aunt (who were supposed to be on holiday to visit me in London) to eat some peri-peri chicken at Nando’s.

I did all these without having to pay a single penny, and without having to worry about insurance, or my lack thereof.

I don’t know any other country where anxious patients, especially those new to the country like myself, would be able to expect this kind of service. Its a privilege that we take for granted everyday because we are so immersed in it, but that’s exactly what it is: a privilege.

Its a privilege to have the services that the NHS provides, and its a privilege to be a part of those services.

I haven’t read other reviews of Adam Kay’s book and I don’t give a fig what other people say. To me, what I got from it was a love for the NHS, despite the stress, the understaffing, the unbelievable pressure to meet somewhat unrealistic targets and the perpetual financial crises that meant you rely on the goodwill of the staff most of the time.

This Is Going to Hurt is in turns funny, poignant, frustrating, touching, and above all things, wonderfully and painfully accurate. I laughed at the bits I recognised (because I experience it day in and day out) and teared up over the things that, despite our best efforts, we health professionals can’t do anything about.

There were moments that seemed so absurd that non-medics would think its fiction. But believe me, the number of times I’ve gone to work and been in a situation where I’ve said after “You cannot make this shit up” cannot be counted on both hands.

I bitch and moan about work as much as the next person, but it only takes me 5 minutes to remember that without the NHS I will not have a career, nor would I have had the experiences, opportunities and relationships that I’m blessed with today.

The NHS is neither good or bad. It simply IS. At the end of the day, one learns to suck it up during the bad days because inevitably, there will be good days that make all the effort worth it.

Like when someone is walking pain free for the first time in their life because of a well-done knee replacement. Or when you help deliver a couple’s firstborn after they’ve experienced more than one miscarriage.

These moments are everything. And for the cynics who say that the NHS provides sub-par services and that I’m idealising the whole situation, believe me, I’M NOT.

I’ve had days where, just like Adam, I felt like throwing in the towel and maybe moving to the private sector where I will at least be paid more. But something keeps me staying and sticking with the NHS. I really truly believe we get it right more times than we get it wrong.

I, for one, am glad that someone finally made the effort to make the general public more aware of what really goes on within the four walls of the hospital.

Once, someone I knew who worked in a different country shared an article written by a nurse who used to work for the NHS, and who had quit because she had gotten traumatised over the deteriorating quality of services in her hospital.

This nurse highlighted a lot of things that are true in most hospitals in the country. Its a tale of a health system that’s on its knees and a government that continues to be ignorant about its plight.

We get daily updates about Brexit negotiations but no one thinks it important to point out that patients with serious health conditions are delayed in seeing a doctor because of an A and E that’s full to bursting? Ridiculous.

Anyway, this person sharing the article erroneously thought that the nurse didn’t have the right to complain because third-world countries have the same problems and the nurses get paid even less, the message being that NHS nurses should just suck it up and get on with it like the rest of the world do.

While I acknowledge that the UK still have it better than, say, the Philippines, the fact is that the point of the article was not about salary or any kind of compensation. The article made an effort to bring to light some of the very real issues the NHS faces, and to bring it the level of something as crude as money is to take away the power of the message it was trying to get across.

What can we do to help?

That’s a question Adam Kay got asked a lot during his book tour apparently. The answer is as varied as the medical field itself.

Maybe next time you see a junior doctor who’s spent more than 24 hours on shift answering bleep after bleep after bleep, or a nurse at the end of the operating list who cannot decide whether she’s more tired or hungry, you’ll find it in your heart to offer them a KitKat.

Maybe during the next election think long and hard about who you’re voting for and ask yourself whether they are the once in a lifetime politicians that will actually care about our health services. (Something to keep in mind now that I can actually vote).

Or if you are part of the noble majority of the population that work for the NHS, maybe be a bit kinder to your colleagues. We are all on this (sinking) boat together, and we’ll hold on to it until they tell us we need to jump ship and swim.

I am extremely proud to work for the NHS, and I am extremely overjoyed that books like these exist.

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.

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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.

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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 Books, family, Reviews

Book Review: Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

My colleagues gave me a Waterstones gift card as a leaving present when I left our department after having worked there for five years. I went to the bookshop confident that I would be able to stay within the limits of the gift card, despite past experience of just the opposite happening.

After about an hour of shopping, I was on my way to the till, confident in my choice of books and ready to make the purchase, when I came across this beautifully bound book that had been long listed for the Man Booker Prize this year. It had a picture of some kind of flying contraption on the cover, and a synopsis that would draw in any reader claiming to have a sense of adventure.

So of course I spent an extra 15 pounds on top of the gift card that I had already been given, but after finishing this incredible book I am of the opinion that it was absolutely, no-doubt-about-it money well spent.

Washington Black tells the story of a young boy who grew up as a slave on a plantation in Barbados. His fate changes when he meets scientist, inventor and abolitionist Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde, brother to the owner of the plantation. Titch takes him under his wing, which sets off a turn of events that will take Wash on an adventure beyond his wildest imaginings.

I have never heard of Esi Edugyan before but after reading this book I’m sure I will be looking out for more of her work in the future. There is something so effortless and melodic about her writing. She kept me so engrossed in Washington’s adventures – and misadventures – that I finished this book in A DAY.

The plotting was so seamless, and she managed to keep the narrative at an even pace despite the many twists and turns the story took. She took her time and allowed the story to unfold organically, and it paid off in the form of a book so well-rounded and – I don’t know – the best word I can used to describe it is FULL.

It is so full and rich in imagery that you will immediately feel yourself transported to wherever it is that Washington’s fate had brought him. You can feel the salty breeze of the West Indies, the icy climes of the Arctic, and – this last one I’m quite familiar with – the smoky, foggy air that is unique to the city of London.

Her characters also came alive under the expert strokes of her pen. It is very hard not to feel empathy for Washington Black. You never really think about how miraculous it is to be free to make your own choices until you realise that some people were born not having any choice at all.

I am not well-versed in the history of slavery or how it eventually came to be abolished, but all the same I am grateful to the men and women who made it all possible. I can’t even conceive of a world where my time is not my own, where personal freedom is only a nebulous concept. Its hard to believe that it was once the only way of life that people like Washington Black knew.

Despite all of that, you can’t help but cheer Wash on as he struggles to rise above his station, as he starts to come to terms with what being free means to him. It was an absolute gem to see his journey come full circle, as he realises that the world is his oyster – at least that’s the conclusion I drew from that incredibly ambiguous ending.

Freedom, Wash, is a word with different meanings to different people

– Titch

He was supported by a cast of characters that were as colourful and diverse as they were complex. I like how Esi painted them in shades of grey, how she showed that even with the best of intentions, human beings get it wrong more often than they get it right. The best we can hope for is that we do a little bit of good and leave the world a better place than when we found it.

This is a beautiful tale of personal strength, friendship and love. It paints a beautiful picture of the ties that bind us to another human being, and that no amount of time or distance or separation will ever be able to severe those ties.

Apart from all that, it was just one hell of a great ride. I absolutely loved it. 

Get your own copy from Waterstones now, you won’t regret it!