Posted in Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews, Women's literature, Writing

Book Review: Circe – Madeline Miller

I’ve read so many books in my lifetime and I’ve since come to the conclusion that the secret to writing a good book all boils down to three things:

1. Find a compelling subject matter – preferably one that you personally feel passionate about.

2. Write a character that people would, at the very least, find unique and interesting. Someone they would want to get to know even if its not someone they would necessarily like.

3. Keep it simple. Tell the story as you would like it to be told to you: without an excess of metaphors, unnecessary angst or pseudo-clever narrative tricks. Just allow it to unfold as naturally as a person journeys through life, and you’re good to go.

Circe is a book that fulfils all three of those conditions and more. Its a story about a woman who was born different, and who has learned to live with and ultimately celebrate those differences.

She’s someone who chose to march to the beat of her own drums, who refused to be defeated when odds and Gods alike rose against her, and who devised a way to find happiness even in the depths of a miserable and unjust exile.

I love her.

She’s fierce, witchy, bitchy and uncompromisingly herself. She goes for what she wants and make no apologies for the lengths she will go through to achieve her goals. Lesser mortals and deities cower before her because she’s not afraid to fight for the right to be happy.

This book deserves all the praise and acclaim it received. I would read it over and over again, if only for the last 50 pages of absolute magic. Like I said, I’ve read a lot of books. Its rare for me to be surprised, or to finish a book and genuinely be able to say that I did not see that one coming.

I know this is a work of fiction, and I hate that the ending was left uncertain. I fell in love with this character so much that I want nothing else but for her to have her happy ending, because she’s fought so hard and asks for so little.

In fact, I’m choosing to believe that she’s out there somewhere, living her dream; a simple dream that most people take for granted.

Circe is a celebration of womanhood and what it means to really, truly be alive. It reminds us that the measure of a life well-lived is not riches or the absence of pain and troubles, its how we find peace and contentment despite all of it, its in the people we meet, and its in the joy of finding someone to go through it all with you and who will tell you, at the end of the day, that everything is going to be all right.

Five stars!

Posted in dating, relationships, Self-Discovery

Putting Yourself Out There

Its all just lip service until you practice what you preach.

I’m a big believer in putting yourself out there, in letting the universe know what you want and in not being afraid to go for something if you really want it. I’ve always said that you shouldn’t let the fear of failing ever stop you from trying. Grab a spoon in the big banquet of life, and all that jazz.

The truth is, until recently, I’ve done nothing but talk absolute bollocks.

Sure, in every other aspect of my life I’m quite the go-getter. I’m known for having a one-track mind. When it comes to achieving something, I’ve been known to run myself ragged, exhausting all options and myself, until the goal is won.

When it comes to my love life, though, I am the biggest coward in the world. I have never been able to look any guy in the eye and just flat out let him know I’m interested. Ever.

I was in love with someone close to me for almost a decade and I was only able to bare my feelings in the most uncomfortable and awkward Facebook message I have ever had to send in my life, and I did it five years after I got over him. I honestly think I was only able to do that because by then I was safely in London, two oceans and a continent away.

Part of that is the culture I grew up with. Both the Filipino and the Chinese culture frown upon their women being ever so forward. A part of me will always balk at the thought of making the first move.

But I can’t blame my somewhat sheltered upbringing for everything.

The real root of such cowardice is my complete aversion to being emotionally vulnerable in any way or shape. I am so petrified of the risk of rejection that I fail to put myself out there time and time again.

I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve come to the conclusion that, in all likelihood, when you ask someone for something or when you put your heart on the line like that, there’s a huge chance that the answer will be no. Like maybe 9 times out of 10.

But if you continue to bottle everything up, to shy away from anything because you don’t want to risk being hurt, you miss out on that glorious ONE TIME when the answer could be yes.

Or you know, at this point, I’d settle for a maybe.

Today I took my chance. I put on my full battle armour (pretty curls and cat’s eyes), gathered my courage and just asked.

The answer was not what I was hoping for, but it was an answer nonetheless. It placed the situation in the most realistic and undeniable light, and it made me see my way forward, which is really as simple as showing him what he’s missing. Lol

Anyway, the point is today I was emotionally brave for the first time ever in my life…and quite frankly I feel nauseous. Like seriously nauseous. Being brave is not all its cracked up to be.

But I also feel great and empowered and I feel like walking down the street singing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. at the top of my lungs. Because I respect myself so much more for having the guts to look him in the eye and tell him (more or less) that I’m interested.

Ball is in your court, bud.

Posted in family, relationships, Self-Discovery

Heart In A Box

There’s an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Cristina Yang is trying to compile a wish list of surgical procedures she would like to learn from her mentor. She drew inspiration from a beating heart that’s been preserved in a glass box through some breakthrough in the field of heart transplantation.

If the procedure she thought of did not even come close to giving her the same sense of wonder that that heart in a box did, then its not worth adding to the list.

My version of this is not as happy and wondrous, I’m afraid. I’ve been under some degree of stress lately. I can’t blame it on anything major, just a buildup of life’s minor irritations that have somehow become unbearable: bills, the return of London’s infamous grey skies, Jon Snow being annoying on Game of Thrones, office politics, people being absolute dicks, just to name a few.

Then I remember that this month my Dad is about to go in for testing to check whether he’s got prostate cancer.

That’s my heart in a box.

You see, we may think we’re having a bad day or even a bad week, and we expend so much emotion on things that we’re not even going to remember five years down the line. I personally dwell far too much and for far too long on things that are so beneath me, its not even funny.

I think about things way too much that the result is that I make more of it than I should, and the molehill becomes a mountain I can’t get beyond. But really, annoying colleagues, unmet deadlines, walking in the rain, a bad date, those are a walk in the park compared to the fear of losing probably the only man I’ve ever loved.

An argument at work is not a bad day. A bad day is getting a biopsy result that will change my life forever. That is the measure. Anything beneath that is not worth my time and attention.

Save all that emotion for the things that are worth emotionally investing in. Trust me, you’ll probably need it.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Self-Discovery

The Illusion of Power

I’ve heard it said that power rests best in the hands of people who never sought to gain it in the first place.

When you move up to a position where you have authority over people, its easy to forget that with that authority and power comes the responsibility to always look out for the well-being of those under your care.

Its very easy to succumb to the mentality that people are there to follow your every order, to bow to your whims, and to be subordinate in every way short of fetching you tea and biscuits.

When you feed this mentality, it gives you a false sense of pride – and we all know this cometh before the fall.

Part of that is because pride gets in the way of you being able to listen to people around you. Pride also makes it difficult for you to accept feedback, and to accept the fact that you don’t know everything and you’re not always right.

The knee-jerk reaction to being questioned is to become defensive. But actually, having your decisions questioned should not feel like an attack. I’ve actually come to look at it as like a safety net, because I know someone is there to check my actions and to make sure I don’t make the mistake of implementing things that could go horribly wrong.

I guess its hard finding that balance between asserting your authority to make sure people know to respect you, and not overly elevating yourself above the people whose respect you seek.

Respect comes from people knowing you’re there for them, that you’ll be fair and compromise when the situation calls for it but that you also have the balls to make the tough decisions when the going gets rough.

I think having the respect of your team is where your true source of power lies, and its something so precious and something that takes ages to cultivate that you never want to do anything to jeopardise that.

I suppose I just need to remind myself that being in power doesn’t give anyone license to be an autocratic bitch. The idea that authority gives you power which then means you can do whatever you want is an illusion that you should nip in the bud lest it comes back to haunt you.

A little humility goes a long way.

Stay grounded. Stay humble.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: The Ruin of Kings – Jenn Lyons

There’s few things I hate more than not being able to finish a book.

I tried with this one, I really did. I wanted to give up after the first few chapters but I persevered because the writing’s not bad, truly. I like the snarky humour, the sarcasm and I even came to tolerate the convoluted non-linear narration.

But writing fantasy is like telling a good joke. If you have to explain the punchline, you’re doing it wrong. There were a lot of telling and explaining in this book. Plot twists were “discovered” by the hero without any build-up whatsoever, and the backstories were so complicated that I gave up trying to keep up.

I’m not even sure what the premise was. I thought I was reading a book about dragons, something that I’m really into as I wait for the final season of Game of Thrones to finish. But there’s ONE dragon in this book and he’s as interesting as an Excel spreadsheet. I was waiting for a ‘Dracarys’ moment but he just went on and on and on about what he would do to the hero when he caught him without actually doing anything. Its very difficult to be bored out of your mind when reading about dragons but this book has achieved that.

The hero, Kihrin, was mildly interesting. He’s got a mysterious past, a somewhat conflicted sexuality and he’s got personality with a capital P. He’s got snark down to an art form and I like how he never lets anyone or anything get him down. He does what he can to get by and makes no apologies for the things he’s done to survive. I love survivors.

Kihrin is – from the little I understood about the backstory- in the centre of a great prophecy concerning the end of the known world. Good premise, maybe. But it all went downhill from there with all the deaths and subsequent resurrections, the massive cast of characters who can take on different forms which makes the cast even bigger than it already is…it was all just unnecessarily complicated.

I DNF’d at about 70%. It had taken me 2 weeks to even get that far and that point my to-read pile had grown too big for me to ignore the fact that I had simply lost interest in this book.

I don’t like giving bad reviews. This could just be all me, really. Other people seem to find it good and kudos to them for being able to keep up. For me, there’s a reason why they say simplicity is beauty. You don’t need all kinds of props and gimmicks in Fantasy, you just have to tell the story.

Also, if you’re going to have a book with dragons, USE YOUR DRAGONS for more than just show.

Overall rating: 2 stars (and mostly because I like the cover!)

Posted in Uncategorized

Processing…

I’ve been feeling so unmoored and restless lately, like I’ve lost my way and I don’t know how to get back to my centre. Its funny because on the surface it appears my life is going swimmingly. But I think what I’ve recently discovered is how important it is for us to take time and reflect.

I haven’t been doing a lot of blogging because I’ve stopped reflecting. And that has contributed a lot to the loss of my sense of self, and the disturbance to my peace of mind. London is a busy city, time goes by so quickly you find yourself on Friday wondering where the hell the week went.

It sometimes feels like you go through life as if it were all a blur, and you fail to take time to really be in the moment. You fail to savour each encounter and interaction because you’re already looking forward to the next one. I scoff sometimes at people who preach mindfulness and being fully in the present but lately I feel like they might be on to something.

For me the future has always been the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road. I’m always looking for the next big thing, the next big opportunity or life event that I can then blab about on social media. What I failed to realise is how much that affects my ability to fully immerse myself in what’s actually happening to or around me.

This blog is some kind of exercise to that effect. I really don’t have anything concrete to write about. I’m just letting the words flow without any thought as to structure and subject matter and hoping I might be able to make sense of all of it, and gain a better understanding of where I am mentally and emotionally at this stage.

I think I’ve had a rough couple of months. When you move up professionally you tend to give more of yourself to your work than you should, and that takes its toll no matter how much you love your job. I always aim to have a healthy work-life balance but I’ve forgotten that in my quest to prove myself at my new place of employment. I wanted to rub my success in the face of all my naysayers but did that really give me any satisfaction?

Satisfaction should always come from a job well done and nothing else, otherwise you’re doing the job for all the wrong reasons.

You can’t always trust people to do the right thing. The right thing is subjective and dependent on the individual and their life experiences. Your standards of morality and right or wrong is always going to be different from that of your neighbour. In other words, that bitch you know will always think she’s right even when she’s so wrong it hurts. And she’ll be a bitch forever.

I learned in college about the 90-10 principle. 10% of life is what happens to you, 90% is how your respond to it. You can stoop to the level of all the nasty and negative people you encounter, or you can laugh in the face of bitchiness and remember that you can still be empathetic and compassionate because you are the better person.

I believe in karma. Sooner or later people will always reap the rewards of what they sow and what goes around will come around. Retribution and comeuppance may take on a form no one expects, but they’re there all the same.

What else do I have to write about?

Relationships are messy. I’ve thought about this so much these past couple of weeks. Like can you imagine how much of yourself you give (and lose) when you enter a relationship? I mean, you now have to think of another person and consider their needs and wants before you even think about what you need and what you want. I find it amazing that anyone is capable of being that selfless but you see it every time in parents with their children, or when you see that rare relationship that really embodies #couplegoals.

I suppose the reason why I’m thinking about that is because more often than not my thoughts inevitably stray to my perpetually single state and I wonder whether the reason why I’m still single is because I’m not capable of giving that much of myself to others. I used to think I was, and I know I probably did so at one point in my life. But then I got burned, and my heart’s been closed up ever since, waiting for someone to help it beat again.

Recently I feel like I’ve found that person who makes me excited again, who makes me look forward to getting up each day because of the endless possibilities ahead. I sometimes think that’s the fuel that keeps me going: the thought that, no matter how bad it gets, life can take a crazy turn and its always, always, full of infinite maybe’s and possibilities.

With my luck though, that possibility would probably include this guy being in a serious committed relationship and him not wanting to have anything to do with me. But still. Possibilities.

I wonder if anyone is actually taking the time to read this verbal diarrhoea. If you are, thank you and congratulations. You’ve just been privy to thoughts that I haven’t been able to tell a single person in my life these past few months. Talking about anything real or deep and meaningful to my friends has become difficult for some reason.

I guess that’s why I love blogging. Its always easier to be vulnerable in a room full of strangers.

I will get back to more structured posts and book reviews later on. But for now, allow me this one kindness of letting me just ramble without filter.

Writing is the best kind of reflecting and processing after all.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, women, Women's literature

Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon

I’ve been trying to find words for the past 24 hours that will do this book justice and so far all I have to show for it are drafts that I’ve since decided were rubbish. Sometimes when a book comes out that is so ambitious in its scope, and just so damn interesting, words fail me.

Book like these are an experience. So much patience and skill went into the world-building, which we all know is the foundation of any good fantasy story. The Queendom of Inys, the mysterious Priory and the distant East all felt like real places, places that I would pay big bucks to visit I might add. Each separate location had its own language, religion, traditions and culture. Its a world that felt like it sprung fully-formed from the depths of the author’s imagination. She made it feel so easy and effortless, when it must have taken ages to piece all of it together.

The characters were as alive as the setting. First of all, I like that the members of the female population featured more prominently in this book than their male counterparts. I can see why its being called a feminist book. Its led by three strong women, each with their own distinct personalities, quirks, strengths and faults. One is a queen whose destiny is irrevocably tied to the fate of her country, another is a mage in hiding who’s been tasked to protect a queen. And the third? The third just wants to ride dragons.

Did i fail to mention there were dragons in this story?

They were such glorious, magnificent creatures in this book. You can tell how much enthusiasm Samantha Shannon had in writing them into the narrative, they totally stole each scene they were in. I loved how they were almost human in their portrayal, if that makes sense. Not only were they sentient beings they also had a a voice, a personality, and a sense of humour.

They were so involved in human lives that they even took part in war councils and contributed to political decisions. I know that having any sort of fire-breathing beings in your book will draw the inevitable comparison to Game of Thrones (intended to be a compliment I’m sure) but I think this book is a far cry from being any sort of imitation. I found it quite unique and original.

The story is rich and complex. A dynasty that was built on a lie is threatened by the arrival of an ancient enemy. Add to the mix some political machinations and betrayal, the formation and dissolution of alliances, and above all, the quest for the truth in order to keep a Queendom safe and what you have is a tale of epic proportions.

Despite the fantastical and magical elements though, this is a story that’s (strangely) very much grounded in reality. I certainly saw parallels with the current state of the world. Whether or not it was her intention, there were moments when the book felt like a social commentary on the times.

Finally, let me just say that its very rare to find a book that represents diversity in such an unobtrusive and casual way. For example, Samantha Shannon didn’t make a big fuss about the fact that several of her main characters have fluid sexual orientations, she simply made it the new normal. I think this book is a great testament to how evolved literature has become, and I’m glad that we’re at that stage where not only is everyone free to be who they are (and to love who they love), we’re also free to read and write all about it.

Don’t be put off by the weight of this book. Yes it felt like I could pound a nail through a two-by-four with it, and I gained biceps definition in the time it took me to walk home from the bookstore just by carrying it around. Its a hefty tome, but its worth it. Samantha Shannon has become one of the authors whose future works I will watch out for. The next time she publishes something, I’m going to hie myself off to my nearest Waterstones faster than you can say ‘Dracarys!’.

Amazing book! 4 out of 5 stars.