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

Book Review: To Kill A Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, this ain’t Disney baby. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, Self-Discovery

Book Review: Three Things About Elsie

Three things you need to know about this book:

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

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

More things you need to know about this book:

The plot twist is incredibly obvious.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Posted in bloggers, fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

Confessions of a Body Shaming Victim

Last week, in the middle of a stressful theatre list where I was worried about having sets and instruments for the surgical procedures we were about to do, one of my male colleagues told me that he thought I was looking “a little chubby“.

Now normally, I would be able to brush off a comment like that. But last week I was especially vulnerable because I had spent the entire week before that binge-eating as a result of the combined effects of hormones and the natural stress of having made some big career changes.

I won’t deny that my self-esteem has always been inversely proportional to my body weight. I come from a country where a UK size 4 is considered the norm and a UK size 12 is almost bordering on fat (if not outright obese). Growing up, I’ve always accepted that this is the standard of beauty against which I will be measured and I am painfully aware that in that regard I have always fallen hopelessly short.

Anyway, this one thoughtless but probably  innocent comment sent me on a downward spiral throughout the day, to the point where I couldn’t even look at food without feeling sick. That day, I saw food as the enemy rather than something that will fuel and nourish me.

My sister and I finished late that day and she asked me whether I wanted to order takeaway rather than go through the hassle of having to cook dinner. I had to tell her that I can’t even think about what to eat for dinner until I’ve stepped on a weighing scale and confirmed whether I have indeed gained weight or not.

I know, I know. Berate me all you want about how stupid and illogical this was, you’re not telling me anything I haven’t already told myself. Rationally, I know that beauty is skin deep, and there’s more to me than just my physical attributes, everyone is lovely in their own way yada yada yada

Rationally, I know that it is INCREDIBLY UNREALISTIC AND DELUSIONAL to think that I will ever be, say, a Victoria’s Secret model. To start with, I just don’t think I have the genes for it. But how do you deal with that irrational part of you that just wants to fit in? How do you deal with that part of you who just wants, FOR ONCE, to not worry every time you want to eat a brownie?

I always say to myself that I exercise and workout for my health and because its fun, not because I’m chasing this picture in my head of what a “sexy” body should like. Someone once told me that confidence is the new sexy anyway and most of the time I have confidence in spades.

I’m not one to deprive myself of food, nor do I usually stop myself from wearing certain clothes because I think I’m too “fat” to pull it off. My favourite outfit is a cropped top for goodness sake. I think there’s nothing you can’t wear as long as you choose the right size for you. Don’t stuff yourself into a size 8 when you’ll look and feel so much better in a size 12.

I guess what I’m saying is that even though I’m a well-adjusted person most of the time and I’ve developed a healthy relationship with (and a healthy acceptance of) my body over the years, my weight will continue to be the one aspect of my life that I will always be incredibly sensitive about. There’s nothing I can do to change that.

Blame it on a childhood full of teasing and being called a member of the “Spice Pigs“, a nickname my friend’s brother called my circle of girl friends because we were all “healthy“. Blame it on a culture that glorifies being skinny. Blame it on the media. But it is what it is, I will always be sensitive about it.

Not even 24 hours after the incident with my colleague, I was at a Bruno Mars concert and, as is expected in these things, people turned up in their summer outfits. Which means to say there was a bare minimum of clothing present. We saw a girl wearing a really tight stringy top that looked three sizes too small for her. Honest-to-god, she looked like a burst sausage.

But you see, what does that say about me that I have those kind of thoughts? What does it say about me that I joke and laugh at someone else’s expense when I know how much it hurts to have the same thing done to me? It doesn’t matter that I didn’t say it to her face, the mere act of mocking her behind her back makes me the worst kind of hypocrite there is

And that is the true confession. We are all of us simultaneously victims and perpetrators of body-shaming.

One of my friends once tweeted that you should change the world by example and not with your opinions. Writing this blog is my way of admitting that I also have my faults, and a way of promising that I’m going to try to be better.

I just think we should all be kinder to ourselves and to others. Believe me, whatever criticisms you make of someone does not match the amount of self-criticism that that person has already given herself. No one judges us more harshly than we ourselves do. Having other people say what we’re already thinking just adds insult to a self-inflicted injury.

I hope that this story makes other people think twice the next time they feel the need to tell other people something potentially hurtful about themselves. Try a compliment the next time. No matter how a person looks I believe you will always find something good to say about them, and it will make them feel better as well as making you feel better about yourself.

You know what I want? For once, I want someone to come up to me and say “You look chubby and its awesome”. Full-figured doesn’t have to be a bad thing. People need to know that as long as they’re happy and healthy, its okay to look the way they do. 

SAY NO TO BODY SHAMING. Focus on the positive rather than the negative and do the world a bit of good.

Posted in Books, LGBT, Uncategorized

Reading LGBT Books With Pride, Literally (Literally!)

When I was younger, my reading tastes were strictly limited to two things: Sweet Valley and the kind of bodice-ripping romance novels from the likes of Johanna Lindsey featuring guys with a long mane of blond hair who I’ve recently discovered were all basically the same guy in different outfits whose name was Fabio.

I’m happy to say that my tastes have evolved since then. I’ve mostly outgrown romance novels, especially the ones that seem more like wish fulfilment rather than actual literature (I’m looking at you, Twilight).

Joining the Goodreads community, and my forays into the book clubs around London, has exposed me to many different genres. I’ve read so many fabulous books these past couple of years, more than I can ever manage to review, and I’ve picked up books from genres that I never would have imagined myself exploring ten years ago.

The one recent and unexpected genre I’ve discovered recently is LGBT-themed books. I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably open-minded person despite my sheltered and almost prudish upbringing. But the Philippines, being a strictly Roman Catholic country, isn’t exactly the kind of place where you’d have a bookstore that proudly boasts an LGBT section.

I came across my first LGBT-themed novel when I was challenged by one of my Goodreads friends to read a New Adult book called Him, which was actually co-written by two of my favourite authors, both of whom have published a lot of books featuring heterosexual couples. I was in between books at the time, and travelling around Western Europe by train, so I decided to give it a go.

I’ve always believed that the more we come to accept each other’s differences, the easier it us for us to accept that we are all the same despite of it. This is what I realised when reading ‘Him’. Sure, gay couples will have difficult experiences that people who are straight will never fully understand. But fundamentally, these books are all about the struggle to understand your feelings, and the courage it takes to act on them.

I think that’s something that everyone will relate to, straight, gay, bi, trans and everything in between.

At the risk of sounding corny, I think The Beatles said it right when they said that all we need is love. I think as human beings we are genetically engineered to crave companionship, no man is a bloody island after all. And that’s another running theme in all books, that human need for another person who will see the world in the same way that you see it, to paraphrase from the great John Green.

So, in honour of pride weekend, I thought I’d make a list of the fabulous, world-view-altering, and inspiring LGBT books I’ve read these past couple of years in the hopes that other readers like me will pick them up and discover what I did, that to want to love and be loved is universal. Enjoy, fellow bookworms!

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

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I’ve reviewed this book for my blog and I’ve recently re-read it because the movie adaptation came out. Both are equally good, but the movie doesn’t really capture the quirky, naive, confused and endearing quality of Simon’s inner thoughts.

Just to add to the diverse theme of this novel, Simon’s main love interest is also of a different race. But again reading it, I never noticed any of those things. This was just a plain old sweet and awwww-inspiring YA novel that is a must-read for any fans of the genre.

Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe

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This is another one of those YA books that ran the risk of being sickeningly sweet and overly saccharine but because it was placed in the hands of a talented author, it became a tender and romantic ode to coming-of-age and the wonders of falling in love with your best friend. The writing style reminded me a lot of Rainbow Rowell, one of my favourite YA authors. And the cover was absolutely divine.

Call Me By Your Name

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Ah, yes. The book that started my obsession for all things Timothee Chalamet. I read this book at a time in my life when I could relate to the main situation of the novel, even if not necessarily its main theme. I’ve already waxed lyrical about how much I love this book so I won’t go into it again. If you missed it, read my review here.

The Song of Achilles

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This one actually won the Orange Prize in 2012. I read it because it was recommended by fans of Call Me By Your Name. It was wonderful and sad all at the same time. I mean, I know the story of Achilles and his famous heel but somehow reading the backstory made this Greek tragedy feel even more tragic. Read with a box of tissues on hand.

Maurice

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This one I read again because of my love for all things related to Timothee Chalamet. I think the movie adaptation of this book was directed by James Ivory, who is the Academy Award winning screenwriter of Call Me By Your Name.

Anyway, this book not only deals with being gay in England at a time when it was a punishable crime, it also deals with class boundaries and the struggle to be yourself even amidst the crushing weight of familial expectations. A bit darker, less of a fluff piece, but an interesting read nonetheless.

If We Were Villains

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This one was a Waterstones bookclub recommendation that sparked the liveliest debate in all of the sessions I attended, in part because of the dodgy and inscrutable characters but also because of its ambiguous ending. This is more of a thriller than anything else but at the heart of it is the kind of passionate, boundary-breaking love that can drive someone insane. Its since become one of my favourite murder/mystery novels. Read my review here.

Him

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And finally, the book that started it all. I find it fitting that a romance novel like this  started what has since become quite a literary adventure. Okay, I may have cringed and blushed at a few of the more graphic scenes. But really, is it any different than when you read straight romance novels? I don’t think so. I’m glad I got past the initial discomfort and awkwardness of this experience, because at the heart of ‘Him’ is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read, right up there with anything Judith McNaught or Johanna Lindsey has to offer.

And also, these guys were two best friends who eventually came to see each other in a different light. And they realised that the one thing they’ve been looking for has been standing in front of them this whole time. Sounds familiar? Of course it does.

Happy Pride Weekend everyone!

 

Posted in Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, sport

How To Get 100 People To Run In Six Easy Steps

Summer in London means people are more motivated to go out and be active.

Or so one would think.

Operating theatre staff are notorious for being reclusive and exclusive (even though in reality we really are a nice and sociable bunch). Tucked away in some hidden corner of the hospital, we probably see more blood than sunshine (morbid, much?), so as some kind of team building activity, I thought it would be a great idea for us to join the annual run organised by the Institute of Sports, Exercise and Health. 

As you can imagine, when I raised this during the daily team brief I was met with reactions that ranged from skeptical to downright scornful. Team building for most people means having a sit-down dinner and maybe having a few rounds of beer afterwards, preferably sponsored by surgeons and anaesthetists. But. You can do that on any ordinary day. This activity is actually a chance to get everyone out in the sun and running for charity. Think of the health benefits!

But no dice. People heard the word running and they literally ran away from the idea. So I had to get creative (and manipulative) and think about how I can generate enthusiasm for my idea. I thought if I could just get 30 people to sign up, I’d consider that a good turnout. This was about two months ago. Here we are 60 days later, the event has just finished and I managed to get ONE HUNDRED people from the department to run the race.

How did I do it? I honestly have no clue. I had several moments these past couple of weeks as I was sorting out bundles of registration forms and actually collecting money in the form of COINS when I thought to myself, what in the world was I thinking? The whole thing had totally run away from me (see what I did there?) and I was petrified that I would fail to organise this properly now that its turned into such a large-scale activity.

But we did it. And a good day was had by all. Looking back I think there were six key things that really made all the difference. And I thought I’d share it with everyone just in case you’re thinking of getting your own department to do something active, and also I want everyone in my department to take note so someone else can organise this next year! Lol

Plan a picnic

I think food is the fulcrum around which all of society spins. Its not love or money that makes the world go round, its booze (haha). So when my team and I said that there will be a picnic afterwards, people became more enthusiastic about the whole thing. We told people to bring food and drinks potluck-style, and my colleague Joanne volunteered to head the food committee. Instant attendance-booster.

Appeal to everyone’s naturally competitive nature

I don’t know about other departments, but our theatre team consists of some of the most competitive bunch of individuals I know. So we made a competition within the race, telling people to get into teams, and the idea was that the first group to get all five people within their team to the finish line wins a prize. Suddenly everyone was coming up with team names, printing their own t-shirts, motivating each other to train and of course, ragging each other about whose team is going to win (mine won, by the way, JUST SAYING).

Open it up to family and friends

Look, we already work five out of seven days in the hospital. Its really difficult to get people to voluntarily come on a Sunday; for free I might add. So we made sure to encourage people to bring their family and friends and turn it into some kind of Family Day so that those with kids can be persuaded to come. It was good to see people mingling and having the kids play with each other.

I often think that seeing someone in a social situation allows you to relate better with someone. In a stressful environment such as the operating theatres, there are a hundred and one ways for people to end up in some kind of argument. There’s also a hierarchy, and in some ways that hierarchy is there for a reason, but it also makes it easy for people to forget that at the end of the day, we’re all human. We have more in common than we think.

Okay, I got a little bit sidetracked there. I was just really chuffed to see families interacting. It really warms the heart.

Un-complicate the process

I’d like to think that I have good insight and people skills. I have a sort of innate understanding about how people think and how to best get them to cooperate. And I know that in order for everyone to stay enthusiastic, I should take out as much of the administrative work as I can (and inevitably, have them fall on my shoulders).

So I asked ISEH if there was any way we could register as a group (this was back when I thought I would have at most 30 runners) and they were so great at helping me find a way to make it easy for people to sign up.

Of course, I did spend the last three weeks collecting registration forms, chasing people for payment, counting change and putting names on an Excel spreadsheet, but I looked around the number of happy, smiling faces today and I have to say, it was worth it.

Make running less intimidating

Honestly, when I first started running I never thought I could even finish a 3k, let alone a 10k (which is the longest run I’ve ever done to date). And I think most people feel that way. They think running is just for the fittest of individuals and that they’re too slow to participate.

Every time someone came up to me who was hesitant about joining the run, I told them, look, its not about finishing first or finishing within a certain time. The point is to do it, and even if you finish behind everyone else, even if you finish last, you still finish. That is an achievement in and of itself because on a Sunday, half the population of England are on their couches (or in a pub somewhere watching the Football World Cup).

Even if you choose to walk a 5k, that is literally 15,000 steps. It can be done in like an hour and a bit, which is still a good time for finishing a 5k run especially if you don’t run regularly or you’ve not trained. Also, it was good of ISEH to have a 2.5k option – especially for the kids – because that’s really what the majority of the our team chose to do.

It takes a village

The idea might have been mine, and I may have done the leg work, but this would never have been organised if I hadn’t had help from my team and if people didn’t embrace the idea. I’m really thankful for my bosses who were so supportive, and who actually came and ran themselves. It was also great of them to buy medals so we can have our own awarding ceremony. I’m thankful to everyone that came, period. I think everyone deserves a round of applause at this point.

At the end of the day, we were all there to support each other and have a good time. I lost track of the number of people who passed by me and took the time to slow down and give me encouraging words or a thumbs up sign. One of our theatre leads actually crossed the finish line AND THEN went back to encourage and motivate the rest of his team, it was awesome.

 

I’m realistic enough to realise that all the problems of the world, and the NHS and our department in particular, will not be solved by one little fun run. But i genuinely hope, at the risk of sounding too corny or maudlin, that we can keep the momentum going and be able to see work a little better with each other than we did before this run.

And if not, well, there’s always next year. 

Thank you everyone for your support!  🙂

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Books, Politics, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: The President Is Missing – Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Well, I never thought I’d see the day when a former President of the United States becomes a novelist.

This is the book that is sure to generate a lot of discussion as readers flock to their nearest bookstores to buy the snazzy looking cover that has BILL CLINTON written in its front cover in big bold letters, all caps.

If nothing else, the strange pairing between the former leader of the free world and one of the world’s most prolific writers (so prolific that people suspect others ghost write his novels) will be enough to get even the most negative of naysayers so curious that they’ll actually end up buying the book.

This was how it was in my case anyway. I’m not a big James Patterson fan but the fact that a former president co-wrote this intrigued me so much that I put it in my to-read list and bought it the day it was released here in London.

I mean think of all the insider secrets he could couch as “fiction”; think about the possible dirt he could have on the world’s most powerful nation, and all the stuff he can share about what it’s REALLY like to live in the White House.

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I have to say, people who feared that he’d give away state secrets can rest easy. For all the hype, there wasn’t anything in this book that we haven’t read in other political thrillers and dramas except perhaps that everything in this book is validated and believed to be factual because of Bill Clinton’s presumed input.

Can I just say though, the fact that it opened on an impeachment trial was too ironic for words, and it had me pissing myself laughing. I didn’t know whether to mock him or to applaud him for having the balls to write what must have been one of the most embarrassing periods of his political life into a novel.

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I resisted reading the initial reviews on Goodreads so that I would go into it with an open mind. And I’m glad I did that because I know a lot of people are being really critical about it. Come on guys, give the man a chance huh? What else is he supposed to do now that he’s no longer politically active?

And I have to say, while this book is not going to win the Nobel Prize for fiction anytime soon, its actually not bad. It started off really slow, and President Duncan felt like a really bland character who is destined for martyrdom. It certainly didn’t feel like Bill Clinton was fictionalising himself, although it would have been more entertaining if he did. Everyone loves a good scandal, right?

Instead, President Duncan felt almost too perfect. Sure, he had moments of doubts and moments where the public questioned his motives but the readers always get the sense that this guy is a hero: he loves his country, he’ll fight to the death to protect it from people who mean to do it harm.

And while cynics may find this a cause for criticism, maybe we should take a good hard look at ourselves and question why we find it so hard to believe in a character who is still pure and driven by altruistic motives. I think the reason will show too much about ourselves and the world we live than is comfortable.

Anyway, I was bored for the first 50 pages of  this book. It felt like they were all wasting precious time endlessly discussing options rather than actually doing something, which is my whole beef with politics in the first place. I mean, they’re sitting on a ticking time bomb and they waste half a day to discuss all the 50 ways that things could go wrong? Come on.

We did eventually get some action when readers find out what it is our characters are dealing with, and the fight sequences were genuinely good. I also like the subterfuge, the misdirection and the subtle balance of keeping foreign relations friendly even when you just want to tell someone to f**k off.

However, the main plot was not too original. In fact, Dan Brown had already done something similar with Inferno and Origin. This felt a lot like the latter, only without the religious undertones and, of course, the intrepid Robert Langdon. I’m not going to give too much away, but I would say that the plot is another cautionary tale against our ever-increasing reliance on technology and the Internet.

I did like the twists and turns that the novel took, especially on the last few chapters. I did GUESS the twist as early as 40% into the book, and I thought the President was monumentally stupid for not having seen it coming, but hey, what do I know?

I did not like the ending. The whole chapter before the epilogue felt utterly self-serving and useless, it had no ties whatsoever to the book. I would have happily skipped it but I could never let any part of any book go unread, so I read the whole darn thing and was rolling my eyes the whole time.

So to sum it up, this book was OKAY. Forget everything you hear about its authors and read it with an open mind and you’ll find that the plot was actually good and the writing pretty engaging. I applaud Bill Clinton’s gumption to venture into fiction-writing, and I hope he’ll come up with another one soon, maybe something that has Monica Lewinsky in it. A romance, perhaps?

Who knows? If this book tells you one thing, its that anything is possible.

 

Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, Travel

The Final Problem: Switzerland Part 1

The older I get, the more I need to find a place to hide for a little while and recharge. Work often gets stressful no matter how much I love my job, and the pressures of trying to make things work in a city like London sometimes get a bit too much. Its nice to have a place where I can just forget about it for a little while and just be able to breathe. Switzerland is that place for me, which is why I try to visit as often as I can.

Everything is so scenic in Switzerland, and there’s something about this country that just makes it a little easier to breathe. And I mean that literally. On my first full day in Schaffhausen I went for a 10k run towards the Rhine Falls, which is quite a hilly route.

Normally, I’d be huffing and puffing and getting side stitches once I hit the 3km mark but not only do I run faster in Switzerland, I also seem to have better breath control. I think its the clean air. You don’t realise it until you’re away from it, but London really is one polluted city.

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Wouldn’t you run everyday with a view like this?

 

I was blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather on this trip. So there were plenty of opportunities to go for a run and to do other activities such as going to a strawberry farm and picking fresh strawberries, the size of which were sometimes as big as a baby’s fist. If one wished to, one could also pick fresh roses off the rose garden.

 

While researching for this trip, I accidentally came across a fact that I really should have known ages ago, being a massive Sherlock fan. You see, despite the fact that Sherlock is OBVIOUSLY  a fictional character, the place where he appeared to have plummeted to his death in the book ‘The Final Problem’ is actually real.

The Reichenbach Fall is located in a small town in the north of Switzerland called Meiringen (pronounced My-ring-gen with a hard g). Because we also wanted to visit Interlaken and other neighbouring cities in that area, my cousin got us a Tageskarte (day pass, I think?) that will allow us to ride trains and buses to any destination within the country for a day, all for 45 CHF.

I think that’s a pretty sweet deal and something travellers should consider purchasing, because train tickets (like everything else in this country) do not come cheap. I think to get from Zurich Airport to Schaufhassen costs like 23 CHF for a one-way ticket. Its ridiculous.

Anyway, depending on where your base is, you might want to make an early start in the morning. It takes about 3 hours to get from Schaufhaussen (which is near Zurich) to Meiringen. You might also want to download the SBB app, which is their version of TFL, because it helps you plan your route and connections.

To get to Meiringen, we had to change trains three times. And we had to walk fast because for each change, we had about an average of 10 minutes to get from one platform to another or risk missing our connection. Needless to say, I was really glad I wore sensible shoes.

The train ride to Meiringen will take you amongst the most scenic and picturesque views that the country has to offer. I normally fall asleep as soon as the train gets moving but apart from the fact that I was scared as hell that we’d miss our stop, I really could not afford to close my eyes on the train ride because I’d miss one hell of a view.

When we finally got to Meiringen, we had to then figure out how to actually get to the bloody waterfall. Again, this is where the SBB app comes in use because it will pretty much give you a step-by-step guide on how to get to anywhere that has a bus or train station attached to it.

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A handy guide on the tram stations around Meiringen

For the Reichenbach Falls, we had to take a tram from Meiringen to a place called Alpbach, which is so close that you can WALK there if you’re not in any hurry or if (unlike us) you actually had a clue as to where to go. Also, it might be good to realise that this area actually has A LOT of waterfalls and you had to make sure you go to the right one.

From Alpbach station we had to walk to the funicular station to take us up to Reichenbach Falls. I didn’t realise how much of a presence Sherlock Holmes actually has in a town so far removed from England. They’ve capitalised on the great detective’s fame by doing tours and erecting museums in his honour.

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It cost about 12 CHF for a return ticket to and from the falls. Note: they only take cash. Also, if you’re planning to visit the nearby Aareschlucht (literally translated it means Aare Gorge) you might want to look into buying tickets for both because it will save you a few swiss francs.

 

The falls themselves are breathtaking. I don’t know, maybe its because I haven’t seen anything apart from buildings and man-made parks for a while or because as a traveller, I’m really quite easy to please. But I was ridiculously happy to have made it up there. I was even chuffed at the Sherlock Holmes cutout that they had near the funicular platform.

 

To get a closer look at the falls, and to get to the actual place where Sherlock fell to his death, you have to go on quite a bit of a hike. Again, wearing sensible shoes is key. Also, check the weather before scheduling your trip because I can imagine that it would get rather tricky to make the hike in unfavourable weather conditions.

 

Whatever you do, don’t forget to take your time and to take in the view from the top because its absolutely stunning. I’m pretty sure this blog post is now full of superlatives but even if I couldn’t find the words to describe how beautiful it is, the pictures should speak for themselves.

 

Don’t worry, falling is like flying, only a more permanent destination

The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock

 

I think we don’t realise how much of a weight we carry on our shoulders until we go on a holiday and we shed that weight, even if its just for a few days. I have so much more to share about this trip, and I will be doing a series of blogs about it. But I just want to end this first one by saying that its my firm and unshakeable belief that travelling, despite its enormous cost to our bank accounts, is one of the few things that truly make us rich.

Travel on, wanderers and dreamers.