Posted in Books, LGBT, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Remember your first crush?

Remember walking down the corridors of your high school and blushing whenever you catch a glimpse of that one cute guy who seems to shine just a little bit brighter than everyone else?

Remember the late night conversations with your friends trying to decipher and construe every conversation and gesture, looking for any hidden meaning or indication that he feels the same way?

Remember your first heartbreak, like when you find out he likes someone else and you comfort yourself with a tub of rocky road ice cream and listen to emo music (Jann Arden in my case)?

These are the kind of memories that this book evokes. It takes you back to a time in your life when every feeling and emotion is magnified (probably because of teenage hormones). It recalls the innocence of first love and I think it captures it perfectly, with just the right amount of self-deprecating humour, sweetness and angst. 

But you know what the most beautiful thing about this book is?

Its about two teenage boys falling in love for the first time. I am really happy to be living in a time where books like this can be published and widely read, not just by the lgbt community but by mainstream readers as well. I think that ten years ago, a kid growing up confused about his sexuality would have felt alone and depressed whereas I fervently hope that now, with all the support and books like Simon, they would know that there are other people going through the same thing and that it DOES get better.

I love Simon’s internal monologue, I really like getting into his head and seeing his take on things. I love that he is a huge fan of Harry Potter and I love that he does theatre. I love the fact that he thinks “coming out” shouldn’t be exclusive to gay people and that straight people should come out as straight too. I love that he thinks straight shouldn’t be the default setting and I love that he was able to bring a sense of humour to his own eventual coming out. 

I know that coming out is a really serious issue for teens, and I’ve read several books where this hasn’t turned out well. But, spoiler alert, its great to read a book for once where family and friends really rally around the character in order to give him support. It gives you hope that that kind of tolerance will eventually be the norm. Love is love people, get with the program.

There’s a mystery to be solved here and if you guys are anything like me, you’ll be tempted to just read through the end to find out who “Blue” is but trust me, you don’t want to spoil the experience. I honestly guessed it early on but I kept getting thrown by the red herrings. However, just like when I’m reading crime and mystery, I know that its rarely the obvious suspect whodunit because where’s the fun in that? And also if you’re really observant, Blue gives himself away in one of his emails to Simon. 

Anyway, if it was possible to die from sweetness overload, I would have keeled over last night. I finished the book and just went “awwwww“. It kinda makes me miss high school, although I wouldn’t go so far as to wish to go through adolescence again. If you’re looking for a nice and easy read, add this to your to-read list! I guarantee you won’t regret it. 

Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, romance

In Death: An Ode to JD Robb

There is something to be said about an author who’s got enough mileage to keep a series – for the most part – fresh and interesting 44 books in, with number 45 having just been released this week.

JD Robb, who first gained fame as a romance author under the pen name of Nora Roberts, has earned the title of being one of the most prolific writers in the business. She still publishes under both pseudonyms and she’s able to churn out at least two books a year. While her works as Nora have declined in quality in my own personal opinion, the In Death series under JD Robb feels a little bit like the energiser bunny: its just going to keep on going until her fingers get too arthritic to type on a keyboard.

I read the first book in the series a little over a year ago when I was looking for a good whodunit crime novel. I picked up Origin in Death based on the recommendation of one of my Goodreads friends who has a reputation for always giving honest reviews. I was quite surprised that she praised this one so highly as she’s usually into alternate universes, post-apocalyptic settings and dystopia. In comparison, this “futuristic” series seemed a little bit tame for her taste. Despite the fact that its set about 60 years in the future in a still-recognisable but crazier version of New York City, and despite the fact that there are crazy gadgets and new inventions to help solve crime, at the heart of it this is a procedural crime novel with Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the NYPD at its centre.

Eve and Roarke

Eve is an enigma even to herself. She’s very methodical and all about the job. She cares and stands for her victims and seems to take any crime in her city personally, which is what makes her so good. You can tell she’s been through something nightmarish in her past because she’s so closed off to other people and have very little, if any, time for a personal life. She is the job and the job is what makes her. While working a case, she meets the equally enigmatic and ultra-charming billionaire Roarke (no last name just like Madonna), who was initially one of the suspects in the case she was working on but who she later develops a romantic relationship with.

The mysteries in each book are interesting in and of themselves; I would probably have followed the series for that reason alone. But the backstory and the character development, as well as seeing how a relationship between two people with such a complicated and traumatic past developed into a strong partnership, is what makes the series special. Seeing how Eve Dallas, respected lieutenant with a reputation for solving crimes, navigates the minefield of marriage and is thoroughly discombobulated by her role as a wife provided a comedic fodder for all the other heavy stuff going on in the books. It was also amazing to see how she developed close relationships with other people and how she somehow allowed them in to her world as a result of opening herself up to Roarke. So much so that she finds herself pleasantly surprised that she’s managed to create a family after years and years of being alone.

The Supporting Cast

The supporting characters in the story also enrich the experience of reading the books. We’re introduced to Delia Peabody, Detective McNab, the other detectives at Cop Central, Chief Morris, Captain Feeney, the chief of police, Summerset the butler, Mavis Freestone, even Galahad the cat – they all matter. JD Robb somehow wrote the series in such a way that she gradually made the readers care for each and every one of them one book at a time. But the lynchpin of the books is really Eve. Its such a joy to see her journey as a character. Which isn’t to say that she can’t be annoying. I sometimes get so annoyed by how she sees things in black and white, which is probably why Roarke is perfect for her because he is all about the shades of grey in between.

44 books in the series!

I read all 37 books in this series one after the other. I’m quite happy that I didn’t know just how many books there were when I started because it might have put me off starting. As it is, I’m sure I made Amazon Kindle really happy when I bought all the published books back then in a bundle, it probably cost me a little over 200 quid but its money well spent. Not all the books were great and there were some that I was tempted not to finish because I was bored, but then those books would surprise me with a scene between Eve and Roarke that would just move their relationship forward and it would make up for an otherwise mediocre story. That’s how JD Robb hooks you: if the story is a dud, the character development makes up for it. If there’s nothing new to explore in terms of the main characters, you sink your claws into a good old-fashioned crime mystery. Its the perfect one-two punch.

Unfortunately, none of the books can be read as a standalone. I mean, when you start reading the first three or four you’d just want to carry on anyway. And okay, you can probably pick one book at random and still enjoy a good mystery but the payoff really is in knowing the characters and the history of how they all came to be what they are to each other. Some books are all about the payoff, with returning characters from previous books or a previous issue that was brought up in one of the previous books but was never fully explored. So I wouldn’t recommend not reading them in order. I would recommend borrowing them from someone who’s got the full collection rather than buying them like I did. There are some highlights in the series and you can go visit my page for my top ten favourite In Death books to check out my personal favourites.

All in all, reading books from this series always feels like visiting an old friend. Its always great to escape into Eve and Roarke’s world for a while and to pray that in these troubled times we live in where the world is literally going to hell in a hand basket, there would be someone like her in our police force who will stand for the good people of London the way Eve Dallas does for New York.

More power to JD Robb and may the books keep coming!

 

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Waterstones Armchair Murders Book Club Pick of the Month: If We Were Villains

Full disclosure: I skipped through the end of this book because I just could not bear not knowing what happened for a minute longer.

I picked up this book because it was selected for next month’s book club meeting. Had I known that it had been frequently compared to Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, I may have hesitated to start it because I found that book as tedious as it was – strangely -compulsively readable. I found the characters in that book so unbelievably pretentious. And, I may be the stupidest person in the world for saying this, but I just did NOT get what all the latin translations contributed to the plot advancement. I did not understand why so many people found the book life-changing but agree to disagree.

This book could not have been any more different.

The thing I love and hate most about reading a book is when you become so invested in the characters that you share in their joys, hopes, disappointments and sorrows. M.L. Rio, almost from the first 50 pages, made me care so much about her protagonist Oliver Marks that I felt a genuine sense of foreboding when he began his story.

The Synopsis

Oliver has been in jail for the past 10 years and his release coincides with the retirement of the detective who took on his case. Wanting closure, the old detective’s final request is for the truth: what really happened during that cold November night when one of Oliver’s friends wound up dead in the lake? 

They were seven friends who shared one thing in common: an all-consuming passion for acting. And not just any acting; Shakespearean acting. Throughout their four years in an exclusive school for the arts they’ve been typecasted: the hero, the villain, the star, the sidekick, the vixen. But when a teacher decided to shake things up and change the status quo, the power shifts; friendships are threatened, rivalries awakened, secrets unraveled, ultimately ending in tragedy.

Oh, The Feels

I don’t think this will be the most coherent review I’ve ever done mostly because I’m writing with my heart rather than my head. All I am after this book is a mass of feelings. Honestly.  This book is more than just a crime novel; its a coming of age story, its an ode to the great bard and most of all its an epic, passionate romance. I know this is supposed to be a thriller, but honestly its LOVE that underscores all the scenes in this book. The kind of love that makes fools of us all, the kind of love that borders on insanity.
Oliver is the kind of character who just grabs you. There is no way to describe him without giving away spoilers because to understand how things turned out the way they were, to really understand his motives, you have to look at the heart of who he is. There are things that were so blindingly obvious to me as the book unfolded that I pretty much guessed whodunit early on. I don’t know if its just me but it really wasn’t that much of a mystery. 

The Twist

I really love a good ending. And a good ending for me is one that ties up all the loose ends; I do not like ending a book with more questions and I do not like to be kept hanging. But really, if done right, ambiguous endings have this impact on readers that cannot be put into words. And this one sure did a number on me. I have read and re-read the last two pages of this book five times and I’ve even googled Shakespeare to give me some clues but I’m still left with the need to rip my hair out because I really want to know what it all means.

I know that we’re meant to form our own conclusion as to the ending but dammit ML Rio, YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!!! 

I’m quite excited to go to book club now and discuss this with the others. I just really need someone to reaffirm my interpretation of the ending. That’s all I need, one person to tell me that the version of events unfolding in my head is not so far-fetched. It’ll be interesting to see how my fellow book club members will react to this. I have a feeling this may have a polarising effect on the group. It will sure make for an interesting discussion.

Hey bookworms in London, if you’re interested in discussing fabulous crime and mystery books, join us every first Wednesday of the month at Waterstones Piccadilly. Free wine! More details here.

Posted in Books, Paranormal, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Silent – Elizabeth Hunter

You know a book is good when you wake up at 6am on a Saturday (your day off) to read it and then find yourself finishing in four hours.

This book is number 5 in The Irin Chronicles and tells the story of Leo, one of the Istanbul scribes and Kyra, one of the kareshta or silent ones. The kareshta are daughter of the Fallen, angels who have defied The Creator and made earth their own personal playground. Their lust for power among mortals led to their banishment from heaven. Most are evil creatures who do not teach their children how to control their magic. Their male offspring, called Grigori, become predators whose lust for any human contact frequently lead to deaths for any female they encounter. Grigori are turned into their sire’s soldiers and are helpless to resist their sire’s commands. The kareshta are not valued as much as the Grigori. Most are killed because they are considered worthless. Those that live have learned to be silent because their voices are part of the unknown and are therefore feared. 

At the end of the previous books, some of the Fallen have been reconciled to heaven leaving their sons and daughters free to live their lives for the first time. Most struggle to integrate into the Irin society because of the long, painful history they share. Some of the kareshta are mated with Irin scribes who have been deprived of any female contact for so long. Some try to live in the human world after they’ve been taught to control their ability to hear soul voices. Its againts this turbulent background that Leo and Kyra’s relationship is forged and tested. 

Leo and Kyra were part of the supporting characters in the previous books so its really hard to follow their story if you haven’t read the other books, I would never classify this as a standalone book because a reader who reads this first would be depriving themselves of a lot of history. That being said, I think this story is the start of a whole new series told about the sons and daughter of the Fallen. We learn so much about the Grigori here, and though they’ve done unspeakable and unforgivable things in their past we also get their backstory in this book. I think its so easy to hate something that you don’t understand, and that sentiment is very relevant in these troubled times we’re living in. So much violence stems from so little understanding that underneath all the differences, we are all the same.

A twist of fate and an unwanted inheritance is all that separates the Grigori from the Irin. This is the point that Kyra was trying to make when she was fighting for acceptance and integration into the community, rather than just tolerance. I think Elizabeth Hunter did a fantastic job of building this world and developing different narratives that she has easily set herself up for at least three more books in this world. I cannot wait for the Grigori to start falling in love. This is just me, I really like imperfect men who struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds to remain good.

The love story itself was also great but the romance alone would never have held this book up. It was an adventure from start to finish and the exotic locations make me think the Elizabeth must have gone on a trip to Southeast Asia in which case I hope she visited the Philippines. Dare I hope there will be a story set in my home country? One can dream.

Anyway, great story and a great addition to the series! Looking forward to whatever Elizabeth decides to write next.

Posted in LGBT, Lifestyle, relationships, romance

Love Wins Part 2: The Wedding Ceremony

I was and always will be a sucker for weddings.

There is something about it that fills me with so much hope. In this world where you can barely get a decent date, it seems like a miracle to me that someone could actually find a partner to share their life with. And in a way, Daim and Tom’s marriage is nothing short of a miracle. 

I’ve already talked about how happy I am that we have become so enlightened as a society such that two men getting married is now almost as commonplace as a wedding between a man and a woman. And I also think its fantastic that through sheer chance, Daim and Tom’s wedding happened to fall on Pride Weekend in the UK. Everytime I see them as a couple, I always think #lovewins. I’m sure it could not have been easy for them to get to this point, and while their story is not mine to tell, I know that they’ve made a lot of compromises along the way to become the partners that they are now. I have no words to describe how happy I am for them.

There were two things that struck me about this wedding. Two things other than the fact that everything was so gorgeous and meticulously planned. First was how accepting everyone was of the fact that this was an occasion of two men getting married. No one remarked upon it, it wasn’t an issue throughout the day, and we’re talking about two cultures (British and Filipino) who are quite conservative and strict about sexuality. But today, it wasn’t about any political correctness or equality, it was simply that everyone was there because they loved them both and they would love whoever it was that either decided to marry.

The second thing was how much the two cultures were equally represented and celebrated. I’ve always thought there was a great divide between the two cultures that no amount of love could ever span and the most you can hope for in an interracial marriage was that one partner would tolerate the other. But today, not only were those two cultures accepted, they were also celebrated. I could not stop a tear from falling when Tom was given the traditional Filipino blessing by Damier’s mum. Or when the person officiating the ceremony told everyone to stand up to greet the bride and groom because this was a Filipino culture. There was a wedding breakfast which is traditionally British (and confusing to me because this was at 4 in the afternoon) and a hog roast during the ball which is the closest thing to the traditional Filipino lechon that you can get in England. 

Their families all tried to get on and interact. The naturally reticent and shy Filipinos were welcomed by the more sociable British. The children were fast friends and playing together by the end of the weekend.  They both had a mixture of British and Filipino friends. It was absolutely beautiful. And I think this really parallels the relationship between these two men. You could not find two people who are more different, but rather than loving each other despite their differences, they love each other becaue of it. Damier’s certainly never voluntarily set foot in a musueum before Tom. And before Damier, I’m sure Tom had rice with his meals about once a month. 

At the end of the day, its not about all the ways in which they are different, but about how they grow together to merge those differences and achieve the kind of partnership that will last. I know this wedding is visually and aesthetically stunning, but I think it would still have been beautiful even if it were in a barn full of hay and horse manure simply because of the joy and love that filled the occasion. 

I love coming to weddings because they fill me with hope. There are things that will last, that will stand the end of time. There is still room for the kind of love that makes you a better person because of it. The kind of love that breaks barriers of race and gender, this is the kind celebrated here today because as Maya Angelou said:

Love recognises no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to its destination full of hope.

There is so much happiness going around the room today that I have not stopped crying since the wedding started. I am so so happy for these two men. They deserve every happiness and every good thing that’s coming their way. Congratulations Tom and Daim! 

Posted in Books, Paranormal, romance

Book Review: The Irin Chronicles – Elizabeth Hunter

In anticipation of the upcoming release of the fifth book in this series, I thought I’d post a review of three of my favourite novels of all time. I accidentally discovered Elizabeth Hunter because Amazon was giving away one of her books for free, and I ended up reading everything that she’s ever written. I like paranormal romance but I find that recently a lot of them are all parodies of Twilight, and all these teenage love triangles where the main female character is just so fantastic, where everyone is so in love with her but she somehow remains insecure about herself, where everyone wants to protect her at the cost of their lives but she insists on putting herself in danger – I just find it all so ridiculous.

Elizabeth Hunter writes about sensible, empowered women. They’re beautiful sure, but she makes it clear that what makes them beautiful is their character. They’re empowered not just for empowerment’s sake, nor is it just to prove a point to their male counterparts, but because they actually have a goal to get to. In short, she writes about the kind of female that’s relatable and liable. She’s been one of my go-to authors for the past year now. I think she’s really underrated.

Now. The Irin Chronicles.

First of all, this story is set in Istanbul, a place that I’ve always wanted to visit but have never gotten around to yet.  In the first book, called The Scribe, (buy now, its free on Amazon Kindle store!!!) we meet Ava Matheson – a professional photographer who hears voices in a language that she doesn’t recognise as well as read emotions when she’s around other people. She’s tried every therapy known to man, and her continuous search for a cure has led her to Istanbul. Here she meets Malachi, a warrior with a past: he belongs to an ancient group of scribes called the Irin who are descended from archangels.

An Irin warrior is strongest when mated to an Irina.

irin-irina
photo credits to thebreakfastblogdotnet.wordpress.com
The Irina are the female descendants; they’re called “singers” because their voices hold magic – such as the power to heal or see the future among others. Millions of years ago, the Grigori – the Irins’ ancient enemy – started a “purge” where they lured all the Irin warriors to a false war so that they can secretly kill all the Irina who have been left vulnerable. A few escaped, but since then there have been very little Irina presence in their world. And the younger warriors have never even seen one. This is a shame because the Irin’s touch is fatal to a mortal woman. We’re talking centuries of celibacy here. Needless to say, these Irin warriors are all a broody, moody bunch of pent-up sexual frustration.

Anyway, Malachi meets and becomes fascinated by Ava and as time went on, he begins to suspect that there’s more to her than meets the eye, but he’s afraid to dream that she might be the one girl he’s allowed to touch, that she could be a potential soulmate or reshon. Added to that, the Grigori have taken to following her around as well. The search for the truth about Ava’s past leads them to various parts of the country, and their romance blossoms in the process. However dangers lurk everywhere, and the Grigori are only waiting for the opportunity to strike and finish off the Irin race once and for all. I have to say, I really really love this series. I’m almost afraid of sharing it to the world because I would be crushed if others didn’t like it because I loved it so much. The first book ends in a cliffhanger that had me starting the 2nd book almost immediately. I was 1-clicking the Kindle store on Amazon like nobody’s business.

 

The second book, The Singer, was even better than the first. Ava and Malachi are separated by seemingly insurmountable forces, and there is a sense of urgency in the book where you’re not sure if they’ll ever be together or if they do, if things will be the same. And then when they are reunited, its not the kind of reunion that you would expect and its even more heartbreaking than the separation.

the-singer1
photo credits to thebreakfastblogdotnet.wordpress.com
On top of that, the story started in The Scribe gets equal airtime with the romance and we begin to sense that this story is bigger than Ava and Malachi, and that this has been planned (or fated) since before they met. We are introduced to other surviving Irina, and you can just feel the feels when they talk about their past before The Purge, and you can really sense the reverence with which this women are treated among The Irin.  We also learn a little bit more of Ava’s past, which is important because even among other Irina, she is…different.

 

 

The last book in the series is The Secret, where we finally learn the truth about Ava’s past and the Irina fight to reclaim their rightful place in the Irin world. We also learn more about The Grigori, who are actually sons of The Fallen – archangels who never went back to heaven because they became ensnared by the temptations of the human world, as well as the kind of power they hold over mortals. The Grigori become real to us readers and Elizabeth does a great job of showing their side of the story but not excusing everything they’ve done. We learn a secret that the Fallen and The Grigori have been hiding, and it all finally comes to a head in an epic battle in Vienna. I reread the climax of the story twice because I was’t so sure I fully grasped it the first time around because I read it so fast, I was THAT excited. It was a very satisfying end to the series, I loved every minute of it.

There is a beauty in Elizabeth Hunter’s writing that I can’t put into words. Her writing just flows, its so easy to read. Their is also a sense of the spiritual in her writing. I remember asking once if she’s Catholic because I can just feel a sense of appreciation for a being higher than ourselves in her writing. Whether that’s the Christian’s God or something else, you can really feel that respect she has for the spiritual. Also, Elizabeth is my friend on Goodreads and she’s replied to me when I emailed her about how much I love her writing AND she liked my review of her books. I love that she’s that connected to her readers.

There is a fourth book but it features a different couple. I don’t recommend reading it as a standalone, but I will probably review that book together with the upcoming 5th book.

Happy reading, bookworms!