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

Book Review: The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

As any Londoner would tell you, one of the most difficult things about living in the capital is finding somewhere suitable to live.

And by suitable I mean somewhere clean, in a relatively safe area, easy to get to by normal means of transportation (preferably along the same tube line as your place of employment) and, most importantly, somewhere that will not cripple you financially such that you’re constantly living on beans and toast until the next pay day as you struggle to meet the exorbitant rent prices.

I have been known to tell my friends on occasion that I would seriously consider taking anyone as a partner if only for the purpose of having someone to share the rent with.

I know, its so totally not the most romantic of reasons to look for a boyfriend.

Beth O’Leary has managed to make the sad reality of London living accommodations into one of the most heartwarming and romantic love stories I’ve ever read, and trust me, I’ve been reading them since I was twelve.

Tiff and Leon have a sort of ships in the night relationship going in this book. By some weird combination of desperation and opposite work schedules, they manage to share a flat…without actually physically sharing it.

She works 9 to 5. He works night shifts as a nurse and is away on weekends. She sleeps on the left side of the bed and bakes cakes when she’s stressed. He has a brother that’s been wrongly imprisoned and he makes a mean mushroom stroganoff.

By sharing a living space they develop a tentative friendship that soon blossoms into something more. I love the little notes that they leave each other, and their first face to face meeting is epic and will have you in stitches.

The chemistry between them just leaps off the pages, whether they’re interacting via post-its or having heavy make-out sessions in some medieval castle. The story and their relationship unfolded in a way that felt natural and uncontrived.

I’ve said this a lot recently but that’s because its true: the older I get the more I appreciate the value of simplicity. Apart from a crazy ex-boyfriend there was a distinct and pleasant lack of unnecessary drama in this book. There was a tiny bit of angst but it was an understandable reaction to the situation and didn’t feel like it was placed there as a plot device.

The writing was good, the character development was even better. I love that Leon is a hospice nurse, they don’t write enough books about what we do in my opinion. I love the supporting cast, they felt like people that I would hang out and be friends with in real life.

The book was touching, funny and a reminder that there is room in our lives for the unconventional, and that amazing things can happen when you take a chance.

After reading this book I’m somewhat tempted to look for another flatmate myself if it means kickstarting my dormant love life into gear. BUT alas my housing contract specifically prohibits such things. Sad.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a light summer read to take your mind off the things that bring you worry. Escape into Tiff and Leon’s wonderful world of exotic Stockwell (haha), and you’ll turn the last page with a smile on your face.

4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in Books, LGBT, romance

Book Review: The Binding – Bridget Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love always wins.

Utterly stunning and captivating book! 4 stars.

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

Book Review: Murmuration – TJ Klune

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

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

Its seriously f***ked up. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay confession time.

I skipped ahead to the ending. 

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

Just get the bloody hell on with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is capable of dreaming up stories such as this.

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

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

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

 

 

Posted in Books, 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, romance

Book Review: The Blue Afternoon – William Boyd

 

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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.

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Cue tears and boxes of Kleenex. 

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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.

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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.

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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