Posted in Books, LGBT, Movies, relationships, Reviews, romance, Self-Discovery

Book Review: Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

I’ve always believed that a book’s power lies in its ability to make it’s readers feel. As someone who’s been both an avid book reader and an extremely emotional person all my life, feeling for the stories I’ve read has never been a problem for me. Its probably why I spent my first 10 years as a reader reading romance novels because they always guaranteed a happy ending; they were probably so far off the mark as far as realism is concerned, but they were relatively painless and angst-free.

This book is not painless and angst-free.

I’ve never read any book where I spent the first three chapters with a hand over my heart because it was throbbing so badly from feeling too much and because I was relating too closely to a character. I was probably twenty pages into the book when I started questioning my sanity for voluntarily subjecting myself to the kind of reading experience that exposes far too many truths about my own self and my own experiences.

Elio and Oliver meet when the latter spends the summer at the former’s villa in Northern Italy (his parents usually adopt graduate students over the summer). Elio becomes infatuated with Oliver even before he consciously realises it. It first came on as a desire to please, then later this need to be around another person all the time, as if you might die if you’re not within their orbit or if you can’t keep them within your sight at all times. It then turns into an all-consuming infatuation, even something that can almost be mistaken for love.

I am not a good enough writer to even come close to giving this book a fitting summary. All I can really say is how it made me feel. And I’m sorry, I don’t mean to take away from whatever message this book is intended to convey about love being love no matter what; I also don’t meant to disregard how important works like these are to the LGBT community (of which I am an avid supporter). But I mean it as a compliment of the highest order when I say that while I was reading this book, I completely forgot that I was reading about two guys who are discovering that everything they knew about themselves may have been a lie. All I knew was that I was reading about and relating to two people experiencing love, and all the joys and aching sorrow that comes with it, for the first time.

I was watching a video on YouTube where the actor who plays Elio was giving an interview and he says that this story, both book and film, transcends gender issues and will mean different things to different viewers/readers. And therein lies the magic of it: It becomes one thing or another depending on who watches it. Yes, its very much a thousand steps forward in terms of gay cinema/literature, but for me its simply a love story. You don’t have to be straight, gay, bi or trans to relate to this story, you just have to be human.

Anyone who’s ever felt the torture of wondering whether your feelings are reciprocated or not, anyone who’s ever experienced the agony of waiting for just one kind word or compliment from the object of their affections, anyone who’s ever felt jealous when said object seems to have feelings for someone else, anyone who’s ever done something they didn’t need to do just because the other person asked for it, anyone who’s ever been simultaneously afraid and exhilarated by the feeling of having given someone the power to either make you happy or break your heart into pieces….they will all relate to and love this book.

There’s one more thing I want to say before I end this review:

Memories are a powerful thing; they sneak up on you when you least expect it, and they surprise you with how much you can still feel even after so many years have passed. This book reminded me of two things: the first time I ever gave my heart to someone, a long long time ago; and the first time I’ve ever felt the pain of saying goodbye to someone that I knew I could have loved if we only had more time. Both were experiences that, if you ask me, I’d really rather forget because they just hurt too much. I think I pushed those memories aside so that I could have the strength to carry on with the business of living. In the process, I also probably closed off a vital part of myself without knowing it. You believe a little less, and doubt a little more because your heart’s been bruised before. I think now that I may have been wrong about that and so many other things. As Elio’s father says towards the end of this book:

We rip so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not feel anything – what a waste!

I highly highly recommend this book. Five stars, applause and a 10 minute standing ovation. Click on image below to buy on Amazon!

Posted in Books, family, relationships, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

I will try my best for this review to do justice to this beautiful story of courage, hope and the power of love to endure all things, but I just don’t think I’m a good enough writer to express how much this book has touched me.

My sister has always wondered why I’m so morbidly fascinated with everything related to the Holocaust. She looked at me with horror when I suggested we watch Schindler’s List for Christmas morning last year (okay, that may have been too depressing a choice for what’s supposed to be a joyous occasion) or when I spent the entire holiday reading The Final Solution by David Cesarani the year before that.

For me it all started with a visit to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. I was well-versed with the history of the holocaust and the events of World War II of course, but in an almost detached kind of way. Like it was something I knew had happened but it never really touched me in a personal way – until I arrived at 263 Prinsengracht. While there, I was compelled to read the diary of a young girl and was able to see those events through her eyes and that, THAT made it personal.

You see, at 14 I was in high school; I did well academically, I had a huge circle of friends, a family who loved me and the exhilarating knowledge that life was only just beginning for me; I had dreams, and I knew I could go anywhere and be whoever I want to be if I only work hard enough for it. The world was my oyster. At 14, Anne Frank was desperately trying to survive, hidden in the secret annexe and praying to God that she will live to see another day.

I’ve visited a lot of memorials, have read a lot of book related to the holocaust – both fiction and non-fiction – and its always the accounts of the ordinary people who lived through that nightmare that always struck me to the core. This book is one of those accounts; it tells the extraordinary story of Lale Sokolov, who worked as the tattooist for Auschwitz during the war. He marked men and women, young and old alike, and inadvertently helped to decide their inevitable fate.

Lale made a promise to himself upon entering Auschwitz that he would survive the dreaded death camp; not only that, but he will bloody well live his life to the fullest even amidst such horror. But even he faltered at times when faced with the utterly senseless waste of life that he saw during his three years of imprisonment. He also could not help but feel like a Nazi collaborator because of what he allowed himself to do in order to survive. For Lale had friends and contacts in higher places, and he used a combination of charm, wiles, cunning and sometimes just plain dumb luck to cheat death over and over again.

Of course Lale had a very strong motive for wanting to stay alive: during his time in Auschwitz he fell in love with a young woman from Block 29 named Gita. Now I am usually not a fan of insta-love, but under those circumstances it was not only understandable but somehow appropriate that two people would grab at the chance for love where they can. I challenge any world-weary cynic who has stopped believing in the power of love to read this and not believe in love again.

This book is incredibly uplifting. Apart from the obvious love story, its mainly a story of hope. One of Lale’s favourite things to say was that “If you wake up in the morning, its a good day”. He, and Gita along with him, got through those horrible years by always putting one foot in front of the other (literally and figuratively) and by always believing that there will come a time when they will be free to be together, “to make love whenever and wherever they want”. Simple freedoms that we take for granted during our everyday lives.

This book also about the startling glimpses of human kindness in a place where you don’t expect kindness to exist anymore. I think its meant to tell you that there is hope for mankind if one prisoner can still manage to willingly share his meagre extra rations so that his block mates can also have a tiny piece of sausage or chocolate.

I won’t deny that this book had me in tears for most of it. Its the little things that got me: how earlier in the book, Lale’s mum – not knowing where he was headed and if they’ll ever see each other again – packed her favourite books in his suitcase instead of clothes so that they’d give him comfort when she no longer can; its how prisoners mourned the loss of suitcase and personal belongings as soon as they entered the camp, not for any materialistic reason, but because of the memories those belongings held, the sentimental value of some of the items, and perhaps because they know that that loss is a metaphor for what they will soon lose: their identities, their individuality, heck, their very humanity will soon be taken from them as they become just another  number in Auschwitz.

Through it all Heather Morris wrote with such simplicity so as not to take away anything from the story that she was writing. Her words were clear, plain and straightforward. The narrative flowed and was easy to follow. It delivered on so many levels, and was such a page-turner that I finished this book within a day.

I still struggle to understand how anyone could have allowed murder and carnage on such a large scale to happen on their watch. I still can’t find any discernible reason for that huge wave of anti-semitism and for why a single group was targeted for genocide. I expressed all that and more when I reviewed The Final Solution on my Goodreads account, and I still stand by everything that I said. We should never forget the events of the holocaust. It makes me wonder how many more lives have to be lost and how many more wars need to be fought before we understand that – even though we’re divided by race, religion and culture – we are all simply human beings. As naive as it sounds, why can’t we just live and let live?

These men and women, these survivors, they weren’t at the battle front. They didn’t help to win the war, I don’t think they fired a single gun shot nor did they contribute to any strategic sessions; all they did was live each day hoping that they will still live to see the next. To me, that makes them heroes. Thank you Lale Sokolov, for sharing your incredible story with the world. I hope you’re happy and at peace with your Gita, I could not think of two people who deserve it more.

Overall: 5 stars. You can get a good deal for this book on Amazon when you click on the image below.

Happy Sunday everyone! xx

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

I have been deceived.

I was deceived into thinking this was simply a romantic time-travel novel between a woman who finds herself magically transported to 17th century Scotland and a young Scots warrior.

I was deceived into thinking this had just a little bit of angst and that the biggest conflict would be whether Claire chooses Frank in the future or Jamie in the past.

I was bloody well deceived into thinking that this would have a relatively happy ending all things considered.

I should have known by the heft of this book that not everything is as it seems.

Warning: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

The book started out innocuously enough. I enjoyed reading about how people lived life in Scotland during that time period. I really liked how the relationship between Claire and Jamie developed. I even understood that scene where he “punished” her as befitted the norm of that time when a woman is basically considered a man’s property. That I can handle.

I understood why some women were outraged about it because reading something like that in this day and age is like taking two steps back for feminism but I thought to myself, hey get a grip guys, consider it from the historical context in which its intended to be placed.

I was not as sanguine during the later half of the book.

I think they can hear my scream of rage all the way to the Scottish Highlands as I skimmed through the last 300 pages of this f**k**g book.

In a way, the innocence and purity of the love between Claire and Jamie made what happened in the end worse for me. To take something so good (and so freakin’ rare!) and use it as an instrument to torture a man to the point that he would prefer death is just unacceptable. Unacceptable. UNACCEPTABLE! There are a lot of things I can stomach when reading a book, but brutal rape is not one of them.

Was that really necessary Diana Gabaldon?!?

Was the violation and complete destruction of Jamie Fraser’s soul really an integral part of the plot? Would the story not have progressed to its inevitable conclusion without it? I know you’re fond of having your female lead play Florence Nightingale but other plot devices SURELY would have served just as well. Have him suffer an infection or heck, have him shot in the leg with her having to amputate him to save his life. Anything but that.

And to have Jamie recount what happened in bits and pieces, with increasing detail, finally culminating in the revelation that his torturer used Claire to finally “rouse” him – that was just the final straw.

I could not read any more after that.

I’m sure there are people who will think that I should be more open-minded about this and I tried, I really tried to understand where the author was coming from and I told myself this whole thing served to strengthen the bond between Jamie and Claire.

But there are just some things I cannot stomach, I’m sorry. That does not take away from the fact that this book is well written (if a bit too detailed), the plot is good and the characters are engaging. I am almost ashamed that I do not have the stomach to read the rest of the series. But its just not for me.

I refuse to watch the series either. I do not need the visual to go with what I have just read. I honestly feel like I have been violated alongside Jamie and I would like Diana Gabaldon to take that as a compliment. I fully concede that those scenes were so powerful that it affected me on a visceral level. I now feel like I need to scrub my mind with a good old-fashioned regency romance that will not throw curveballs like this just when I thought we were nearing happily-ever-after.

If I wanted death and violence I’d read a crime novel. I do not need it in my romance novels, thank you very much.

I’d love to hear what y’all think even if you feel the need to criticise my opinions because you disagree. Just, you know, be gentle with the comments.

Also, if you want to buy the book click on the Amazon link below and help me earn some money. Lol. Cheers!

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review: How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

Its currently 4:30 am in the Philippines and I’ve had zero sleep because of jet lag. The only good thing that’s come out of that is that I managed to finish this book that I bought ages ago but only just decided to read.

This book had far too many similarities to The Age of Adaline and The Time Traveller’s Wife for me to be comfortable reading it when I wasn’t in the right headspace. As most of you know, I tend to get too involved in the lives of the characters I’m reading such that their emotions become my own. And as much as I love books like these, I know without a doubt that they never have a happy ending.

Tom Hazard looks like a normal forty-year-old attempting to teach history in East London. In reality, he is 439 years old and has lived through both the Great Wars, met and worked with Shakespeare, had drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald and has witnessed all the defining moments of history. He has a condition called anageria, which means he only ages a year every 3 or 4 decades.

Tom is part of a society of people who are just like him and the idea is to protect each other from threat and exposure. There are a few rules: no photographs (difficult in this age of selfies!), move every eight years and of course, don’t fall in love. Apparently, this is the one thing guaranteed to drive you insane (I wholeheartedly concur).

It would be easy for me to dismiss this book out of hand if it turned out to be just another story of love defying all odds and impossibilities. Its not that; rather, the reader is allowed to go on a journey as Tom discovers the difference between existing and living. I think that this, this moment in time, is the perfect time for me to read this book.

You see I think it throws everyone off their game, turning 30 and realising that you’ve become a full-fledged adult with 3 decades of experience behind you. Being 30 comes with expectations, the word marriage is mentioned much more often (along with children, babies, etc). We spend so much our time thinking of, planning for and worrying about the future.

Its the same thing with dwelling on the past; there’s never any point in being stuck on the mistakes and the what if’s but we do it anyway, when in fact the only thing you should be doing about the past is learning from it. I think this is what Tom came to realise in this book. The secret to enjoying life is in enjoying the process; its the journey, not the destination after all.

For all its faults (that ending was a bit abrupt and tidy), the book is incredibly poignant. It reminds us that to live in fear is not to live at all. It tells us that things are going to happen that we won’t be able to control but just like a surfer, you should just be able to ride out the waves.

Everything is going to be all right. Or if not, everything is going to be, so let’s not worry.

As many of you know, I am a little bit obsessed with the concept of destiny and seemingly random moments that turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. So yeah, I found myself relating to this book and nodding along to Tom’s internal monologues. It can seem a bit much, but stick with it and you can see kernels of truth of like this one:

That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days – some years – some decades are empty. There is nothing to them. Its just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. When I look back on the past 5 or 6 years of my life, its not the big moments that I relive when I need a good memory. Its the many small moments that I didn’t think amounted to anything at the time. I wish I was better at taking photos or that I had time to write about even the mundane things, because someday when time has passed me by these are the memories I’d fight to keep.

And lastly, just to get out of the depressing mood of that last paragraph, I think Matt Haig makes a case in point of what I’ve come to believe is a universal truth: the present is vastly underrated. We don’t appreciate the present until it becomes the past. What is so wrong with us that we can’t seem to just live in the moment? Life is far too short to be stressed all the time. Someone please remind me of this the next time I moan about being stressed!

I won’t tell you if Tom discovers the secret to stopping time, I’ll leave you to read that for yourself. But in a book with so many quotable quotes, I’d like to end with the one that really spoke to me:

If only we could find a way to stop time. That’s what we need to work on. You know, for when a moment of happiness floats along…

We so very rarely get true moments of happiness. When you do, hold on to it and enjoy it. That’s my secret for stopping time, anyway.

Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, romance

Life Lessons from A Man Called Ove

Ove and Romance

Maybe he didn’t write her poems or serenade her with songs or came home with expensive gifts. But no other boy had gone the wrong way on a train for hours every day just because he liked sitting next to her while she spoke.

 

 

People said Ove saw the world in black and white but she was color. All the colour he had.

Ove and True Love

Loving someone is like moving into a house. At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you…then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love the house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather its imperfections.

img_7450

Ove and Being a Man

Men like Ove and Rune were from a generation in which one was what one did, not what one talked about.

 

They say the best men are born out of their faults and that they improve later on, more than if they’d never done anything wrong.

Ove and Making Time for the Things That Matter

…all people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.

 

Ove and Loss

Death is a strange thing…we fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take away someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

 

Ove and Destiny

She always said all roads lead to something you were predestined to do. And for her perhaps it was something, but for Ove, it was someone.

 

Ove and Life

He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced.

 

One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps.

 

And just as a bonus, because this is also one of my favourite things in the world…

Of all the imaginable things he misses most about her, the thing he really wishes he could do again was hold her hand in his.

 

Sigh. You will fall in love with this book. Buy it now!

 

Cheers, bookworms! 😘

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review – A Man Called Ove

In 2009, Disney Pixar’s ‘Up‘ was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Before this film, there had only been one other animated feature nominated in this category (Beauty and The Beast). I was one of the millions and millions of people who watched this film, and I still hold the opinion that that Best Picture nod owes itself to the first 5 minutes of the movie, the most gut-wrenching, heart-stabbing, tear-inducing 5 minutes I’ve ever experienced while watching a cartoon.

A Man Called Ove will draw the inevitable comparison to Up because they have pretty similar themes and messages. For example, both will make you think about the things that we lost in the name of progress.

You see, I think that while the world has gone forward in leaps and bounds in many respects, we’ve also lost some of the essence of what it means to really value our relationships with other people.

We see other people as dispensable: if we lose one friend there’s always another follower on social media to ease the sting; not happy with the guy you’re currently dating, well, moving on to the next guy is as easy as swiping right with your index finger.

Reading this book gave me all sorts of feels. I mean, let’s start with the fact that it was exceptionally written. It was funny in a way that didn’t take away from the importance of the message it was trying to impart; it was emotional without being heavy-handed; the darker undertones were well-balanced with the lighter moments. Like a metaphor for life, it had its ups and downs, good times and bad times, the tragedy of loss offset by the many small moments that make life worth living. I absolutely loved every single minute of it.

Ove is a throwback to the days where, if something’s broken, you fix it rather than replacing it. He’s simple, straightforward and rule-abiding. He thinks that there should be a place for everything and everything in its place. He doesn’t talk much but he makes sure that when he does that it makes an impact. People think that Ove is bitter and taciturn, but he is one of the most caring and endearing characters that I’ve ever read about in my life.

Above all, Ove is loyal. He is loyal to the people who has somehow wormed their way into his life even as he tried to drive them away. He is loyal to his friends even when he’s feuding heavily with them. He’s loyal to stray cats even as they muck up his daily routines. Most of all, he is loyal to the love of his life, the one person that he would walk through hell for: his wife, Sonja.

This book is about a lot of things: friendship, finding your place in the world and finding a reason to live again. But at the heart of it, its about the love that one person is capable of feeling for another. I stumbled upon this book at a time when I needed a reminder of the kind of love that is worth waiting for.

In this age of Tinder, Bumble, match.,com etc., we need a little of reminder of what love and romance mean. Other people hear romantic and think unrealistic. But romantic to me has never been about the grand gestures; its not the Christian Grey hearts and flowers with a little BDSM version either.

Romantic for me is what Ove had with Sonja: constancy, stability, the kind of love where one would spend hours on a train going in the wrong direction just so he can listen to a girl talk about her favourite books.

Romantic is being there when their noses are runny with the flu; its being there to hold their hand and hug them through the failures and popping open the champagne through the triumphs. Its just about being there, really.

Ove says that every person needs to know what they’re fighting for. I would fight for that kind of love, that kind of relationship. I can only hope to find someone worthy of that kind of bond and I can only pray that I am also worth the kind of love and commitment that I’m looking for.

I didn’t expect a love story when I started this book, but in a nutshell that’s what this is: a love story of Ove and the people whose lives he has touched. Thank you, Frederick Backman, for this amazing book. I love it so much that I’m making another blog post about it. Click on the tag Ove to check out the other life lessons I learned from this gem of a book.

5 out of 5 stars! Get the book from Amazon by clicking on the image below.

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review – Turtles All The Way Down

So there’s this saying about books that we’ve all heard that says we’re not to judge it by its cover. Yes, I get that its not meant to be taken literally, as in we’re not really talking about books when we spout that overused statement. But because I’m actually reviewing a book and finding myself unusually unsure about where to start, I’ll start with that. We don’t judge a book by its cover; we judge a book based on how much it makes us think and how it makes us feel.

00102367-400x400

 

John Green’s latest offering has me baffled, to be honest. On one hand, there are bits about it that I really really like and which I’ll get to later. On the other hand, a part of me found it really difficult to get through the book especially towards the end when things start to spiral out of control for our main character.

Aza Holmes is a teenager who is trying, really trying, to co-exist with the thoughts that live in her head. She tries to lead a normal life with her fearless best friend Daisy and even finds the time to dabble in a little mystery: the mystery of where billionaire Russell Pickett has hidden himself to avoid getting arrested for corruption. She also makes a connection with said billionaire’s son, Davis, whom she met at “sad camp” years ago and this connection slowly leads to – what else – the sweet sweet bloom of first love.

First of all, I think John Green did a really good job of not just describing what mental illness feels like but really getting the readers as close to the real experience as one can get while reading a fictional novel. The scenes where Aza becomes a helpless victim to her thoughts, to the point where she can’t even kiss a guy she likes without freaking out, were really painful for me to read. In that moment, I was as fully invested as Aza to the outcome of that situation and that speaks to John Green’s talent as an author.

I mentioned that I found it difficult to get through the book. I think what I meant to say is that it hit a little too close to home. Aza gets anxious about her health, specifically about getting an infection. I’ve already admitted in a previous post that I’ve always been a little bit of a hypochondriac. At one point in my life, I was so convinced that I had brain tumour because I found a lump at the back of my head. I remember crying in the dark in my room, crying in church and thinking about all the things that I will never get to do because I was going to die of brain tumour. I think I must have been about 12 or 13.

After a week, I managed to rid myself of these irrational thoughts and correctly concluded that I did not have brain tumour. Studying Nursing made my anxiety about my health both better and worse. Better because I can usually reason myself out of my worries by reciting the signs and symptoms of my imagined illness – signs and symptoms that I didn’t have – and worse because whenever I do have symptoms, my brain goes to the worst possible scenario there is.

I can usually laugh it off and make a joke about it. But reading this book makes me realise that its not a laughing matter when these thoughts start to take over your life; when you can’t even kiss a guy without worrying that his microbes will forever be a part of you; when you actually ingest a dangerous substance just to make yourself clean; and when you find yourself pleading for someone to just take you out of yourself so that you can stop having these thoughts. Yes, in some respects this book is really really dark.

The moments of levity come from Aza’s friendship with Daisy and of course, the romantic connection with David. I think that the friendship between the two girls is one of the strongest points of the novel. In fact, the novel can be mostly summed up by this line that Daisy tells Aza:

You know I love you right? My whole life I thought I was the star of an overly earnest romance movie, and it turns out I was in a goddamned buddy comedy all along.

The friendship takes a little bit of a back burner to the romance but I’m glad that it was made clear towards the end that it was one of the constants that helps Aza get through life.

And what about the romance you ask? Come on, this is John Green. You can bet your ass that there will be instagrammable and quotable quotes that the more emo half of the population will just devour. There is also the ever-present, ever-so-deep (and slightly pretentious) existential conversations that makes me ask whether teenagers really talk that way these days.

However, I think John Green made the right call by not making this seem like another book where love cures all but rather, the romance almost seems like a bittersweet postscript, a small but significant ode to the magic of first love:

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.

If I could make a small criticism, I thought that bit with the mysterious disappearance of the billionaire was not only irrelevant and useless, it was also weird. Honestly, it did not add to the story except as a plot device for the MCs to re-connect with each other again. And also, who leaves all their money when they die to their pet lizard? It was just ridiculous and the reason why I only gave this book 3-stars on Goodreads. Apart from that, really good book for both fans of the YA genre and just readers in general.