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!

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: To Kill A Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

Warning: this is not going to be the most coherent and objective of book reviews because, BLOODY HELL, this book was FANTASTIC.

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Its been sitting on my shelf for a while because I went through a phase where I couldn’t seem to pick up YA fantasy books without wanting to either kill the heroine for being so damned stupid or maim the author for stretching what is really a very basic story into yet another trilogy. For those of you who know me, you know that the one thing I do not have in excess is PATIENCE.

What I do have is appreciation for authors who use their unlimited imagination and their not insignificant writing skills to provide a tale that proves YA fantasy does not have to be synonymous to sparkly vampires. Quite literally, this books feels like a welcome breath of fresh sea air.

To Kill A Kingdom, at first glance, seems like a retelling or a modern spin on The Little Mermaid. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three decades you will know this Hans Christian Andersen classic very well, but you probably know it better as a product of this quite well-known studio you might have heard of called Disney.

This book is about a siren princess called Lira, who is as far away from Ariel as one could get. Whilst Ariel may coyly comb her hair with a fork, flirt with a prince to get him to kiss her and sings about wanting to be a part of our world, Lira would sooner poke her eye out with said fork than to ever deign to associate with humans, let alone kiss a prince.

In fact, Lira has been trained by her dear old mumsy, The Sea Queen, from a very young age to become The Prince’s Bane, ruthlessly killing royals every year on her birthday and keeping their hearts under the sea as both a memento and a source of power. Forced to do unimaginable things before she’s really had a chance to find herself, she is the terror of the seas and, much to mummy’s rage and jealousy, the future of the kingdom of Keto.

Enter our prince, Elian from the kingdom of Midas. By no stretch of the imagination can he be called Prince Charming. Rather than learning how to rule a kingdom, he’s spent most of his life sailing the high seas and killing sirens to bring peace to the Hundred Kingdoms. His dream is to eliminate the threat of sirens forever by killing the Sea Queen and the queen’s greatest weapon: Lira.

Yep, this ain’t Disney baby. 

There are so many things I like about this book that I’m already struggling to keep this blog from becoming a thesis. Its superbly written, and I am not at all surprised to find out that Alexandra Christo is a British author. There is something about her narrative and her use of language and dialogue that is so pleasing to read.

The writing flows smoothly like the ocean that Elian and Lira both love so much, and the action propels the readers into new heights of excitement just like the turbulent seas when there is a gathering storm.

The book is tightly plotted, with no unnecessary teen drama or angst to distract readers from the inevitable conclusion. All roads lead to the Cloud Mountain, where legend tells of a stone that has the power to control and kill the Sea Queen. To get there however, Elian and Lira will have to trust in each other, and to trust in their dream that things can be different; that they can be more than what they have always been, that they have the power to choose their destiny.

Its pretty violent for a YA novel. But there is an unwavering moral compass beneath all the violent scenes that is evident every time Elian chooses to kill only when there is no other choice, in the way Lira – even if its against her nature – chooses to do something because its the right thing to do. I am a sucker for things like that, I get all mushy when I read something that tells me that there are still people who believe in things like honour and loyalty.

I was absolutely enamoured by the legend, the daring, the sword fights and the fact that it featured so many strong female characters. This is a trend that we are starting to see more and more in YA books and it’s FANTASTIC. This sends the kind of message that we want impressionable teenage girls to receive: that women can do whatever they want  and that we also deserve to make our own way in this world, with or without a man by our side.

I love how Lira was almost an anti-thesis to every kind of heroine I’ve ever read about before. She’s no Bella Swan, that’s for sure. She’s not a simpering flower nor a damsel in distress, she’d sooner kill you than kiss you and she’s all kinds of awesome. She refuses to be defined by her past, and she ultimately finds redemption and peace in the best way possible while still being true to herself.

A weak woman will break before she accepts reality, but a strong woman has the ability to bend (just enough) before she breaks. 

Anyway, yes, there is a love story in this book. But its so subtle and atypical that I did not find the time to roll my eyes and be cynical about it. In no way did it distract from the main point of the story, it almost seemed like a secondary thing, like a natural product of the turn of events rather than something that the author contrived to cater to her target market of squealing teens.

Legend says that if a human holds a siren’s heart it will make them immune to the sirens’ song, a song that lulls anyone who hears it into a state where they fall under the siren’s spell and into certain death. I didn’t realise how cynical I had become because I didn’t grasp the implication of this legend immediately, not until the end of the story, when it was thrust upon me.

And this is exactly what this book ultimately gave me: at the risk of sounding trite, finishing this book felt like getting back a piece of my childhood and finding a part of the girl I used to be, the girl who believed anything was possible

For all that I said this book is as far from Disney as it gets, there is something about the last few chapters of the book, the climax and its bittersweet but satisfying ending, that will have you believing again. It will have you believing in the power of friendship, family, love and the power of having something to believe in.

This is a book worth spending your Sundays in bed for, you guys. BUY IT NOW because you will not regret it, it is absolutely awesome.

I will now leave you so that I can watch Disney’s The Little Mermaid. LOL

Out of the sea, wish I could be part of your world.

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Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, Self-Discovery

Book Review: Three Things About Elsie

Three things you need to know about this book:

  1. Its about growing old
  2. Its not the most exciting book in the world but hey, growing old rarely is
  3. Elsie really isn’t the point of the book, despite the title.

This book tells the story of Florence, and her day-to-day life in a care home. Now you might not think of a care home as the most scintillating of settings and you would be absolutely right. ITS NOT. This is not the kind of book you pick up if you want a fast-paced plot. Its more like a Sunday afternoon, relaxing-by-the-beach kind of read.

More things you need to know about this book:

The plot twist is incredibly obvious.

I mean, if you work in the medical profession I think you’ll be able to see it straight away. Or it could just be because I’ve read a similar plot line in other books that right from the start it was glaringly obvious to me who Elsie was and what she meant to the main character. I don’t know whether the twist was intended to be a surprise, in which case the author could have done a better job of keeping us guessing, or whether the truth about Elsie was almost secondary to everything else.

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Personally though, figuring out the twist didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the novel especially since there was still a mystery to be solved. I liked how nothing is really as it seems in this book. Florence is an unreliable narrator because she’s biased and because I think age and hindsight tends to colour our memory of an event. I think time changes our interpretation of things that have happened in our lives, either for better or for worse. 

You also have to pay close attention to every character in this book because trust me, they’re all significant. I was really amazed at how connected everyone was, I mean, how small a town are we talking about here? I’m almost tempted to think that the entire plot was too convenient and too contrived but I am a sucker for things like these. I like knowing that all our actions create ripples that unknowingly changes the course of someone else’s life. 

 

This book is relatable to anyone who’s afraid of growing old. Don’t lie. That’s everyone.

The only thing we really know for certain is that we’ll all get older. Some of us will get there before others, but make no mistake about it: we are on a one-way track to old age and despite whatever magic serum or fad of the month says, there is no stopping the inevitable. 

It seems almost eerily appropriate that I’m reading this book a couple of weeks before my 31st birthday. Thinking about the fact that I have probably reached the midpoint of my lifespan has been giving me a couple of sleepless nights, I’m not going to lie. I can’t put into words exactly why growing old terrifies me. I just know that it does.

When we were younger we couldn’t wait to become adults, probably so that we won’t have anyone constantly telling us what to do. But now that we’re here, all we want is to go back to that place where our greatest worry was whether our parents will allow us to go to a party at our friend’s house over the weekend.

I think what I miss most about being in my teens or even in my twenties is that feeling of having my life before me, of having something to look forward to. I know I’m not exactly doddering, but its different in your 30s because you’re kind of committed to the consequences of your life decisions. For example, unless I make a drastic move in the next five years, I’ll always be sort of working in a field related to medicine or surgery.

What I learned from this book though is that its not so much the ageing process that matters (because there’s really nothing we can do about that) as much as our attitude towards ageing. I think we all need to be reminded once in a while that you can still experience new things AT ANY AGE, its up to you to find and maximise those opportunities. I think you should hold on to the kid in you who will always see the wonder in the world around you.

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Be kinder to those who have already travelled the path of life.

I’ve had to explain how an iPhone works to my mum once, and I think my tone bordered on condescending half the time I was doing it. We always think we know better than those who are older than us because we have technology and all the modern-day comforts on our side. But what I realised whilst reading this book is that there is no discounting the wisdom borne of age and experience. There are just some things you cannot google. 

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There was a point in this book where Florence felt like speaking up was pointless because people tend to stop listening to you when you’re older. They also tend to stop seeing you as a person. I thought that was really sad, and not something that I want my own parents and grandparents to feel.

Can I just say though, at the risk of sounding ignorant, that I really don’t understand the concept of putting people in care homes? I recognise that this might be a cultural thing, but this is the one thing that my Filipino upbringing just cannot acclimatise to. I grew up with the understanding that when my parents grow old, it would then be my turn to take care of them.

I don’t think I would ever dream of putting them in a care home and having someone else see to their needs. Again, this is not meant to offend anyone. I do realise its very difficult to do this in London and that there are very valid reasons for putting relatives in care homes. I know sometimes its better for them in terms of the quality of care and amount of attention they receive. All I’m saying is that I personally object to the concept.

All in all, whilst this is not going into my personal favourites (and I’m kinda regretting buying a hardback edition of it), that’s a testament to my taste rather than the quality of the work because this book was actually quite good. Maybe buy it on Kindle or something because its cheaper. Lol

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

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.

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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.

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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.