Posted in bloggers, Books, Politics, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: The President Is Missing – Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Well, I never thought I’d see the day when a former President of the United States becomes a novelist.

This is the book that is sure to generate a lot of discussion as readers flock to their nearest bookstores to buy the snazzy looking cover that has BILL CLINTON written in its front cover in big bold letters, all caps.

If nothing else, the strange pairing between the former leader of the free world and one of the world’s most prolific writers (so prolific that people suspect others ghost write his novels) will be enough to get even the most negative of naysayers so curious that they’ll actually end up buying the book.

This was how it was in my case anyway. I’m not a big James Patterson fan but the fact that a former president co-wrote this intrigued me so much that I put it in my to-read list and bought it the day it was released here in London.

I mean think of all the insider secrets he could couch as “fiction”; think about the possible dirt he could have on the world’s most powerful nation, and all the stuff he can share about what it’s REALLY like to live in the White House.

giphy-3.gif

I have to say, people who feared that he’d give away state secrets can rest easy. For all the hype, there wasn’t anything in this book that we haven’t read in other political thrillers and dramas except perhaps that everything in this book is validated and believed to be factual because of Bill Clinton’s presumed input.

Can I just say though, the fact that it opened on an impeachment trial was too ironic for words, and it had me pissing myself laughing. I didn’t know whether to mock him or to applaud him for having the balls to write what must have been one of the most embarrassing periods of his political life into a novel.

giphy-4

I resisted reading the initial reviews on Goodreads so that I would go into it with an open mind. And I’m glad I did that because I know a lot of people are being really critical about it. Come on guys, give the man a chance huh? What else is he supposed to do now that he’s no longer politically active?

And I have to say, while this book is not going to win the Nobel Prize for fiction anytime soon, its actually not bad. It started off really slow, and President Duncan felt like a really bland character who is destined for martyrdom. It certainly didn’t feel like Bill Clinton was fictionalising himself, although it would have been more entertaining if he did. Everyone loves a good scandal, right?

Instead, President Duncan felt almost too perfect. Sure, he had moments of doubts and moments where the public questioned his motives but the readers always get the sense that this guy is a hero: he loves his country, he’ll fight to the death to protect it from people who mean to do it harm.

And while cynics may find this a cause for criticism, maybe we should take a good hard look at ourselves and question why we find it so hard to believe in a character who is still pure and driven by altruistic motives. I think the reason will show too much about ourselves and the world we live than is comfortable.

Anyway, I was bored for the first 50 pages of  this book. It felt like they were all wasting precious time endlessly discussing options rather than actually doing something, which is my whole beef with politics in the first place. I mean, they’re sitting on a ticking time bomb and they waste half a day to discuss all the 50 ways that things could go wrong? Come on.

We did eventually get some action when readers find out what it is our characters are dealing with, and the fight sequences were genuinely good. I also like the subterfuge, the misdirection and the subtle balance of keeping foreign relations friendly even when you just want to tell someone to f**k off.

However, the main plot was not too original. In fact, Dan Brown had already done something similar with Inferno and Origin. This felt a lot like the latter, only without the religious undertones and, of course, the intrepid Robert Langdon. I’m not going to give too much away, but I would say that the plot is another cautionary tale against our ever-increasing reliance on technology and the Internet.

I did like the twists and turns that the novel took, especially on the last few chapters. I did GUESS the twist as early as 40% into the book, and I thought the President was monumentally stupid for not having seen it coming, but hey, what do I know?

I did not like the ending. The whole chapter before the epilogue felt utterly self-serving and useless, it had no ties whatsoever to the book. I would have happily skipped it but I could never let any part of any book go unread, so I read the whole darn thing and was rolling my eyes the whole time.

So to sum it up, this book was OKAY. Forget everything you hear about its authors and read it with an open mind and you’ll find that the plot was actually good and the writing pretty engaging. I applaud Bill Clinton’s gumption to venture into fiction-writing, and I hope he’ll come up with another one soon, maybe something that has Monica Lewinsky in it. A romance, perhaps?

Who knows? If this book tells you one thing, its that anything is possible.

 

Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Blue Afternoon – William Boyd

 

2000px-Flag_of_the_Philippines.svg

One Tuesday morning, one of my favourite surgeons randomly said to me “So Angie, I never knew that the at one point the Philippines was at war with America.” I thought to myself that this was an incredibly odd topic to bring up out of the blue. I had no idea where this came from and where he was going with this statement.

It turned out he’d read a book by William Boyd that was set in the Philippines around the time that the country was under the rule of the US government, and he recommended that I put this book in my massive to-read pile because he was sure I’d find it interesting. I was curious enough to look it up on Goodreads, and I became convinced that I should read this book when I found out it was a love story.

I was under the impression that this was going to be another one of those war books that people seemed to like so much. In my head, I imagined scenes similar to Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale on Pearl Harbour and it would be all angsty and heartbreaking.

439c998ca0f2d0529651d275aff941c1

Cue tears and boxes of Kleenex. 

giphy-2

It soon became clear that this was in no way similar to Pearl Harbour. Sure the premise seemed to follow the pattern of romance novels set in that era. Daughter meets her long-lost biological father and ends up helping him in his quest to find his long-lost love.

With nothing to go on but rumours and an old photograph, they set out for Portugal in the hopes of a happy reunion and along the way, this epic love story was told to the daughter in retrospect. I thought for sure that I already knew where this was going. I was so smug in my belief that the ending to this novel was a foregone conclusion.

How very wrong I was. 

Warning, there will be spoilers ahead! 

To my everlasting surprise, this novel had mystery, passion, deception, intrigue and yes, a bit of romance if one stretches one’s imagination enough to call infidelity and faking your own death romantic. 

This wasn’t a story about love so much as it is a story about desire and the lengths someone would go to in order to satisfy that desire. I’m sorry, but the hopeless romantic in me still believes that love is not love if you can’t shout it out on the rooftops, and that when it’s right it should be easy. This pairing was neither right nor easy and it certainly wasn’t love.

So yeah, the love story wasn’t what I expected it to be. The good thing is, though, that this book had a lot of things going for it that kept me turning the pages even when I was so exhausted from work.

First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever read a published international novel that was set entirely in the Philippines. I’m glad we’re getting that level of exposure as a country and that our history is being discovered by people who read William Boyd.

tenor

I often think its a shame that we don’t make enough of a point of sharing our vast, colourful and interesting history. We don’t make enough of an effort to invest in museums that show the world what we’ve gone through as a nation and as a people. They can and should make a large-scale Hollywood movie out of it, in my own totally unbiased opinion.

The description of the setting was also authentic and incredibly atmospheric. It felt like I was transported to Manila in the  turn of the century and watching the sun set over Manila Bay. I had the sudden urge to fly home and explore the remnants of the walled city of Intramuros.

439a871bb4533bdd81ba781e4a587373
Sunset over Manila Bay. Photo credits to Pinterest as I’ve actually never been here myself. I KNOW. SHAME ON ME. 

The other thing I liked, and which should not have surprised me given that it was a surgeon who recommended this book, was that it showed the evolution of medicine in the Philippines.  The nurse in me found this all very interesting. Medicine and surgery play a central and pivotal role in this story, and my inner geek was shouting with glee when I realised just how pivotal a role it played.

Anyway, I’ve blathered on for far too long when all I really wanted to say was that I really liked this book and I’m glad I gave it a shot. I wasn’t sure about the author’s writing style initially, but it grew on me because the plot was just so damn interesting. There were a lot of unanswered questions at the end, and to be honest the ending was ambiguous as hell. But that’s part of its charm I suppose.

I really recommend this book to anyone but most especially for people like me who might miss home every now and then. 

Cheers bookworms! xx

 

Posted in bloggers, Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews, women

Book Review: Anatomy of A Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Now here’s a blinding flash of the obvious: sex, lies and scandals sell.

giphy-2.gif

Anatomy of a Scandal is the latest in a string of novels that tackle the subject matter of marriage and infidelity, and how passion can make anyone do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Honestly, I have long since removed my rose-colored glasses. I no longer see the world through the filters of my childhood Disney influences. I am grown-up and realistic enough to accept that there’s no such thing as perfect relationships.

However.

I am increasingly frustrated by the way marriage is portrayed in the number of books I’ve read recently. I mean, is nothing sacred anymore? When did fidelity become the exception rather than the rule? When did society learn to turn the other cheek when a husband is caught cheating on his wife or vice versa? When did we become so blasé about something that – to me- is so fundamentally wrong?

68747470733a2f2f73332e616d617a6f6e6177732e636f6d2f776174747061642d6d656469612d736572766963652f53746f7279496d6167652f4b5241796f6c6f486a4842716e413d3d2d3438303136343238312e3134656432636134

Okay, now that I’ve had my little rant, let me try to actually get a coherent review of this book out.

Anatomy of A Scandal is actually a courtroom drama more than anything else. A charming and influential MP is accused of rape by a woman with whom he’s been having an affair with for several months. This makes the case trickier because the issue of consent is blurred by the fact that they’ve had consensual sex several times prior to the incident in question (a quickie at the elevator right at the heart of the Houses of Parliament, HONESTLY).

This book really gets down to the nitty-gritty. For all that I hate the fact that this is another book about a cheating cretin, I really do admire it for the awareness it brings to the public about the kind of rape where consent is a grey area rather than a clear-cut case of “she didn’t want it”.

According to this book, the prosecutor has to make the jury believe that at the point of penetration, the accused was fully aware that they victim did not consent to the act. So really, she could have been enjoying the foreplay but if she didn’t want to go all the way and yet the man still insisted on scoring a home run, its still rape. I never knew that.

This book also brings to light the reason why so many victims do not come forward about their experiences. I mean, I don’t mean to generalise, but there is so much burden placed on the victim to provide proof of rape. And when you do come forward, your character and history are scrutinised, criticised and judged by everyone involved; your business becomes everybody’s business.

If you’re somehow the kind of woman who likes to look good, dress sexy or flirt every now and then, people seem to think you deserved what happened to you. As if one thing led to the other. As if there was no distinction between being a flirt and unsolicited sex. In this case, the odds against the victim are stacked even higher because she was “the other woman”.

It’s book likes these that make me thankful that the world is now paying more attention to things like sexual harassment in the workplace and that victims of assault have found their voice through movement like Time’s Up and Me Too. Where there once was just ripples in the ocean, feminism is now making waves. And thank God for that because its about damn time that abusers (and I’m not saying that they are exclusively of the male variety) finally answer for their sins.

Anyway, this book isn’t really a crime novel, nor is it the kind of book you pick up if you want to enjoy a fast-paced and thrilling plot. The story unfolds gradually, and in a non-linear fashion through the use of flashbacks. There were very few plot twists and none that you wouldn’t see coming.

It’s told from several point of views, one of which is the wife of the accused, which is why I went on the whole cheating rant because I just felt so sorry for her. I mean, you work hard to maintain a marriage, you compromise in order to make a partnership work and you think things are going along swimmingly AND THEN you’re completely blindsided not only by the discovery of an affair but by a far greater and more public scandal. Its enough to turn someone off the whole institution of marriage altogether.

taylor-swift-take-a-deep-breath

I think I’m going to read a romance novel next just to remind myself that the world is still a romantic place and that as long as the people in it continue to believe in true love, hope still springs eternal. Sappy, I know, but I need to take this belief with me when I go to sleep at night.

Because if love no longer exists, and all we’re left with are the lies and the scandal and the constant infidelity, what is the point of waking up in the morning? Scary thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Books, murder mystery, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: Ordeal By Innocence – Agatha Christie

Well, I suppose they can’t all be masterpieces.

MmEz_f-maxage-0

Although I’ve only just recently started plowing my way through her massive body of work, I’ve been a fan of Ms. Christie from the moment I cracked open my first Hercule Poirot mystery.

I think she is a true master of the crime/thriller genre, and she manages to tell a tale without having to turn a book into something you can pound a nail with. I was very impressed with ‘And Then There Were None’ and ‘Murder at the Orient Express’, and just last month I saw ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ at the county hall with my sister and was blown away by a plot that was deceptively simple but in actuality layered and intricate.

So I had really high expectations for this book. I mean, the premise was promising and characteristic of some of her great works. A woman murdered at her family home, a son accused of the crime and sent to prison, and a last-minute witness that gave evidence to the fact that the son was sent to prison for a crime he never committed.

gKDaO

This meant that the killer is still at large and could be ANYONE. So sister turns against brother, husband turns against wife, lover turns against lover, as the hunt for the real murderer commences.

All very gripping, presumably. HOWEVER, I found myself increasingly frustrated as the book went on for several reasons which I will try to enumerate in this post. First of all, I found it ludicrous that a stranger would ever be given license to investigate a murder when he had no jurisdiction, experience or even any sort of ties to the family. I mean, really, what business was it of his?? The witness/protagonist in this book toed a really fine line between good samaritan and busybody.

Secondly, I know that having people trapped in one setting and unable to escape each other’s company is a hallmark of her work. BUT. There was something about this plot that felt almost recycled to me. Maybe its pure coincidence and stems from the fact that the last five books of hers that I’ve bought were all relatively similar plot-wise, but while reading this book I found myself thinking that I’ve read this all before.

Thirdly, my God, towards the end of the book I just wished she’d shorten the length of the novel rather than subject us all to the needless repetition of facts that we ALL ALREADY KNEW. Like, all the clues were explored and thought over by so many characters; random people were examining the murder from all angles in several different chapters and at that point I just wanted to throw my hands up and say, OKAY, I GET IT. THESE ARE THE FACTS. NOW SOLVE THE MYSTERY ALREADY.

tyrionreading_1428565536

And then when the mystery was solved, it was such a bloody letdown. After all the build-up, the twist almost felt like an anti-climax. I mean, okay, a part of me thought it was really clever and I can see how Agatha Christie has influenced the murder mystery genre because I felt like I’ve seen this twist in an episode of Castle or some other tv crime series. I suppose I just didn’t warm up to how this story was told, which is a shame because now that I think about it, it was actually quite a good story.

So there’s a BBC adaptation of this starring the incomparable Bill Nighy that I’m hoping would be better than the book. Maybe this is a plot that works better as a live action tv series rather than a book? I don’t know. I feel like I’VE just committed a crime by giving an Agatha Christie book a bad review but I have to be honest.

ordeal by innocence 2

Hopefully, the next three books I have lined up will be better. Maybe I should stick to the Poirot or Miss Marple mysteries.

Anyway, I would love to hear what you all think. If someone can tell me how the BBC production is, I’d appreciate it!

Cheers, bookworms.

Posted in Books, Politics, Reviews, Self-Discovery, Young Adult

Book Review: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

I once had a friend who called me out for posting a flippant comment on Facebook about a social issue that was being raised 2-3 years ago.

At the time I think I told her to mind her own damn business. I didn’t think it was wrong of me to try and focus on the good things, and to try to make light of the situation, because there’s nothing I can do to change the bad things anyway.

To this day I still remember her answer to that, which was to say that that was completely the wrong attitude to take. She said that as someone who’s met, been and stayed in contact with so many young people (I was a teacher in the Philippines) and who’s so active on social media, I have a responsibility.

I have a responsibility to raise awareness about important issues, and to encourage people to think about things like equality and justice. I have a voice, and the ability to influence opinions through my words. I should use it for more than just making witty comments.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my friend Jerah that after reading this book I finally understand why she was so upset with me, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get it at the time. I get it now.

To make light of something is to diminish its importance, and its important that people raise social awareness in any way they can. The people who have been victims of hate crimes are not laughing at my witticisms because they’re too busy fighting for their lives.

That’s why books like these are so important. They give a voice to the people who don’t often have the courage to speak up for themselves. Through Starr, an ordinary teenager who proves that she’s capable of extraordinary things, Angie Thomas sends out a powerful message: that every one and every life matters.

Starr is a very strong heroine. Having been a witness to not one but two of her friends’ brutal murders she’s understandably scared, but she finds a way to turn that fear into strength, making her a worthy role model for teenagers everywhere.

It helps that she’s also so damn relatable, and that her family – even in the midst of all the violence – is able to retain a sense of normalcy for Starr and her siblings. They stick together and they protect each other even when they disagree with each other’s opinion. Or even if they’re fighting over whether Lebron James is or is not a complete and utter fraud (I personally am not a fan. Laker girl all the way!).

This book offers a social commentary on equality, diversity, the justice system and police brutality. However, its the way it portrays racism in ALL FORMS that really got me.

Its not just the blatant and overt things like treating someone differently because they’re black or Asian or any other minority. Sometimes the small snide comments, (often meant to be humorous) comments that show a lack of understanding about other people’s culture or beliefs, that hurt even more than any form of outright racism.

This book made me think about the many ways I may have disrespected people who come from a different background just by throwing out a careless comment or two, and how I really have to be more careful about drawing the line between banter and just plain being rude.

I am not the most socially aware person in the world. I tend not to read the news anymore because it just depresses me. I do, however, read books. Like, a lot. So it helps when they publish books like these because it gets people to stand up and take notice of the things that are happening in front of our very noses.

Kudos to the author for not mincing words even though she knows her main demographic will be young impressionable teenagers. In fact I think the point IS to reach as many young people as she can. This, THIS is the kind of books that they should be reading, not books about sparkly vampires.

The Hate U Give is not a book that will give you a lot of closure. Even towards the end there is a sense that there is still so much more to be done, so many more battles to fight before the war against racism can be won. If you’re expecting a happy ending all tied up in a neat bow I suggest you move on to the romance section of your local bookstore.

But if you want a book that will inspire you and make you think, feel and HOPE, this is the book for you. Absolutely brilliant.

4 stars!

Posted in Books, Classic Literature, Reviews

A Tale of Two Cities: A Book Review and Some Melancholy Musings

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times

My love affair with Dickens started when I read Great Expectations five years ago. It was the first piece of classic literature I’ve read that was not written by Jane Austen. I’m almost ashamed to say that I was only driven to read it after watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars where a character was quoting a line from the book.

Up until that point I’ve only ever associated Dickens with Scrooge and A Christmas Carol. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading his extensive catalog of works to find that Mr. Dickens is not only observant, witty and blessed with a superb sense of comedic timing, he is also – in my opinion – the most underrated romance writer ever known to man.

Every book of his, including the one I’m reviewing now, is a love story in one form or another. First of all, his book is very clearly a love letter for the city of London – he describes the city so faithfully and evocatively that you can almost see the fog over St Paul, feel the spattering of rain, and smell the odours coming from both the river Thames and the sea of London’s inhabitants.

Every book is a story of a loving family: in this one, the history of the French Revolution is distilled to its most basic component as Dickens tells it through the eyes of the Manette family. With them we feel the dangers of the Reign of Terror and the ominous presence of La Guillotine, and through their experiences, we see the effects of years and years of oppression and how it can bring out the worst in people.

The best thing about a Dickens book, though, is that always, ALWAYS, it is a celebratory tale of unrequited love, two words that I never thought I would ever put together in one sentence. There is no reason to celebrate loving someone knowing all the while that that love can never be returned. But in every book, Dickens manages to turn something so utterly pathetic into something so triumphant, and never is that more true than in the character of Sydney Carlton.

Almost like a foreshadowing of future events, Dickens made Sydney Carlton an almost inconspicuous character for most of the book, weaving in and out of scenes like a side note, like a bit player waiting in the wings before he has to take center stage in life’s pivotal scene.

His love for the married Lucie is so all-encompassing that he willingly makes the ultimate sacrifice for her sake. In doing so, he takes the meaning of the words friend zone to a whole new level. HONESTLY.

He is a dissolute character who’s never done anything useful in his life but I promise you, you will find yourself cherishing this character long after you read the last couple of lines in this book, which comprises the most haunting words I’ve ever read in my life.

Finally, I just want to say this. I struggled all this week to find a reason for doing the things that I do. I’ve felt discouraged about people in general to the point where I ask myself why I should even bother. In a weird way, finishing this book gave me the answers I so badly needed.

It is not a failing to care too much for other people, to want to help them out to the best of your ability: it is a STRENGTH. And you do these things knowing they won’t always be appreciated and nor can you expect they’ll do the same for you; the point is to do them anyway.

A Tale of Two Cities is proof positive that even in the worst of times, there are still people capable of the best of things. And therein lies the hope.

4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in Books, Reviews, Thriller, Writing

Book Review: The Woman In The Window – AJ Finn

At this point in my reading career I should know better than to START READING A BOOK at 9 in the evening when I have to get up early for for work the next day.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

But, you know.

So I’m a little short on sleep this morning. This book was soooo worth it.

First of all, I have a love/hate relationship with books who have an unreliable narrator. I know it adds nuance to the story but it also adds a level of frustration for ME. I like figuring things out on my own but with a protagonist like Anna Fox, you can’t take anything she says or observes at face value.

Anna is an ex-psychologist who’s suffering from an extreme case of post-traumatic agoraphobia. She keeps in contact with her estranged husband and daughter sporadically. The only other connections she’s made in the last year are online ones in a community called Agora.

She’s not been able to leave her house in Harlem for the last ten months. She has her food and prescription drugs delivered and she spends her time drinking merlot and spying on her unsuspecting neighbours. When The Russell family moves in in the house across the road, Anna develops an unhealthy obsession with them, observing them day and night. As a result, one night she sees something that she wasn’t supposed to see.

I loved the premise of this book, despite as I said the unreliable narrator. I like how Anna has to struggle to get people to believe her because her state of mind is so unstable.

I like how she’s obsessed with old black and white thrillers a la Alfred Hitchcock and that these movies play out in the background while all these terrible things are happening. It adds a layer of creepiness to the book as the movies often parallel what’s happening in real life.

The house itself, and the fact that it encompasses the sum total of her existence, adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the whole book. As a setting, its really evocative.

Honest truth, I skipped to the end because it was coming up to the point where I really had to sleep if I was going to be of any use at work the next day. But the twist was so compelling that I still ended up reading and finishing the whole thing anyway.

The story moves at such a brisk pace and its a total page turner. You’ll find yourself turning page after page after page and there’s no use telling yourself you just want to read another chapter because the chapters don’t help. They’re of variable lengths and some of them are only two pages long so you have to read more.

There were two twists in this story. Both I saw coming but brushed off because I didn’t think it was possible. Mild spoiler ahead but I thought the most likely outcome was that this was all in Anna’s head and the neighbourhood doesn’t really exist and she’s created some kind of fictional place in her head because she’s gone completely bonkers. But no, that wasn’t it. Sorry, if that’s one of the theories you come up with then you’ll have to come up with another one.

Anyway, some of the truths we discover in this book really broke my heart. Anna really is at the heart of this book and you will feel for her. She’s made a lot of mistakes and she’s suffered greatly for her errors in judgment.

She’s a cautionary tale about how one tiny decision can change the course of your life. But she really is someone you want to root for and you’ll be anxious for her to find a satisfactory ending. Or you know, to make it through the ordeal alive.

I highly recommend this book especially for fans of The Girl on The Train (I think this is better) and just fans of the psychological thriller genre in general. Maybe buy it on Kindle. At the moment, its only the hardback edition that’s out and this book is good but maybe not worth shelling out for hardcover.

I’d love to know what you guys think! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.