Posted in Books, LGBT, romance

Book Review: The Binding – Bridget Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love always wins.

Utterly stunning and captivating book! 4 stars.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: Fire and Blood – George RR Martin

I sit here and write this whilst re-watching episodes from past seasons of Game of Thrones in preparation for the final season premiering in April. I can’t believe its been 10 years since this show aired its pilot, and even longer since GRRM published the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Since then, its become this massive phenomenon beloved by people all over the world, discussed in coffee rooms and workplaces across several countries; when a Game of Thrones season is in progress (airing on Sundays), you can bet your bottom dollar that come Monday people will be dissecting and analysing each episode for clues, easter eggs and foreshadowings of things to come.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: fantasy must be the most difficult thing in the world to write. It takes a whole lot of imagination. The concept of world-building alone staggers me; even as I nurture my small but growing ambition to become a writer I know I’ll probably never be able to write fantasy. I have imagination but its limited to the things that I know, to the world that I know.

George RR Martin is a man whose imagination has no limits. He’s not only written five books about the current events in Westeros, he’s made Westeros into something so rich, concrete and solid that it now comes with its own history, folklore and legends. This country feels so real you can almost taste the weirwood or feel the melting of the ice on The Wall.

Everyone knows about Jon Snow who knows nothing, about the misfortunes that befell the Starks, the cruelty of the Lannisters, the sandsnakes of Dorne and, of course, the journey of Daenerys Targaryen towards reclaiming the Iron Throne. Westeros as it stands is in turmoil, and everyone waits with bated breath to see how it will all end.

Which is probably why fans made such a hue and cry when, instead of moving forward, GRRM chose to look backwards. With his new publication he’s written a sort of prequel, and fans were not happy because they think he should have been working on the next book in the Game of Thrones series instead.

As someone who’s always loved history, I think that fans are really missing the whole point here. Any GoT fans worth their salt would appreciate Fire and Blood for what it is: a chance to have a glimpse into the history of Westeros’ most notorious, enigmatic and legendary rulers.

With Fire and Blood, GRRM explores a dynasty whose bloody history rivals that of the Romanovs, whose wars are as devastating as the War of the Roses, whose relationships are more complex than anything we’ve ever read about in medieval history, which is thought to be the inspiration behind Game of Thrones.

The history of the Targaryen kings have all the makings of something truly epic: battles, romance, rivalry, betrayals, family secrets, politics, incest, and most of all, DRAGONS. The Targaryen dragons are every bit as important as the riders they bore on their backs, and they play just as pivotal a role in the shaping of Westeros as we know it.

At times when reading this massive tome, I did feel as if I were back in a classroom studying for a history exam. Having always been a geek to the core I did start to stress out over the dates and notable names mentioned in the book. I was almost tempted to get a pen and paper out so I can start making notes. But then I told myself to get a grip and to simply enjoy what was truly an incredible story. Let me tell you, if they taught stuff like this in school more people would be getting A’s on the subject.

William the Conqueror would have been so much more interesting if he also rode a dragon when he set out to conquer England, I’m just saying. 

There was always a risk that this book would turn out to be dry and boring, but GRRM has written this with flair and an almost self-deprecating humour. He made reading about wars and bloodshed fun, and it was clever of him to write as a fictional maester of the citadel who had been tasked to compile the history of the Targaryen kings, so that he can explore both historical facts and historical gossip,

And there were a lot of salacious gossip; those Targaryens were as lusty as they come.

I still can’t believe that one man has held all these complex plots in his head. How in the world does he keep all of them straight? I’ve yet to find plot holes or instances where he’s contradicted himself. I do think that his pacing has suffered somewhat in the later books, and I sometimes wish his characters could just get on with it rather than linger overlong in some godforsaken free city like Pentos or one of those stupid places in Slaver’s Bay.

But I think I’ve become such a fan of the show and the book series that I really just want to linger in this world he’s created, and seeing it again through the eyes of some of my favourite characters feel like catching up with an old friend. I, for one, will gladly purchase anything that is written about Westeros and in me, the genius that is George RR Martin has a fan for life.

Rating: 5 stars.

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

Book Review: The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

It’s always the women and children who pay such a high price when “great men” decide to play the game of thrones. Or so the great GRRM once wrote.

I’ve been immersed in all things Greek mythology lately, and I feel like its all been leading up to where it would always inevitably culminate: the epic Trojan War. Poems, novels, music and movies have been written about the ten-year siege of Troy, and of the notorious Helen, also known as the face that launched a thousand ships.

This book is unique in that it tells the story from the perspective of the women who were sold into slavery at the Greek camps when their cities fell to the mighty Achilles and his legendary army of Myrmidons. It focuses on one woman in particular: Briseis, former queen and now slave to Achilles, the man who burned her city and killed her husband and brothers in the process.

So, these reviews always seem to go on longer than I intend them to. I’ve yet to develop the skill of editing my own work, and I probably never will. But I will try to focus on two main themes for this review, for the sake of being “brief”.

The Spoils of War

I’ve always had a weird fascination for reading about war times, not because I’m particularly interested in weaponry and warfare, but because I’m fascinated by its effect on the people who are left behind. I don’t care much about how the war was won, because for me there’s no such thing. When a country goes to war with another country because diplomacy has failed them in every way, everyone loses.

It always breaks my heart to read about the very human stories behind every major war. And its always the same thing, over and over again, throughout the pages of history: the lost promise of youth, children growing up way before their time, young men who never lived long enough to fulfil the dreams their parents had for them.

Its the story of women who have lost fathers, brothers, husbands and sons; women who were never given the opportunity to fight the battles when they were every bit as invested in the outcome. I think if any government leader should ever take it into their head to go to war over something, they should take a good hard look at the women in their family, and to think about all that they would suffer, and decide whether its worth it.

This is the great thing about this book, because it really highlights all of that, and also how the women of the Trojan War were stripped away from their sense of self, from their identities and individualities, from everything that makes them a person, and were instead relegated into the role of objects.

It brings into stark relief all the humiliations and degradations that these women suffered in the hands of so-called heroes: Achilles, Ajax, Agamemnon (although I’ve always thought of him as sort of a prick), Nestor, and even Odysseus. This is an important book to read, and an important point to make, during these times of change when women everywhere are fighting for equality in every arena. Its a call to arms, a message that we will no longer allow this to happen. And for all of that, I salute you, Pat Barker. 

Love is Love is Love

To end this review on a more positive note, I’d like to revisit the story of Achilles and Patroclus. Despite numerous research into the matter, historians are still unable to agree on whether these two were lovers or just really really really close friends. After reading about them in Madeline Miller’s fabulous book, The Song of Achilles, and again here, I am of the opinion that at the end of the day, it makes no bloody difference.

Whether it was the love between brothers, friends or lovers, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is the kind of love that is strong enough to transcend labels, powerful enough to turn the tide of the Trojan War and so powerful that, in my heart, I am sure that it even defied death.

The Greeks, for all their brutal ways, had no hang-ups whatsoever when it comes to sexuality. Hercules had both male and female lovers, it did not make him any less of a legend in their eyes. I love reading about these stories, and I particularly love revisiting the story of Achilles and Patroclus, because it gives me hope.

It gives me hope that if a love like that can exist, there is a future for all of us to look forward to, one in which wars cease to be a possibility, and a world where you can just be free to love who you love, regardless of class, race, age or gender. And that is the kind of ideology that IS worth fighting for.

 

Briseis came to a conclusion towards the end of the book that, for all that she tried to defy and escape him, she was ultimately just another spoke in the wheel, just another supporting character to Achilles’ story. But that doesn’t mean that she does not get to try to write her own story and her own future.

Ultimately, this is what this book is about. We are all free to make our own choices, chart our own destinies and write our own stories. You don’t need to be a hero. You just need to be a person with hopes, dreams and, more importantly, the capacity to love…because long after all the songs have been written about battles and triumphs, its the human tale of love that will endure.

Fabulous book! 4 out of 5 stars. 

Posted in bloggers, Books

Book Review: Mythos – Stephen Fry

There’s something so endlessly fascinating about Greek Mythology.

I can’t put my finger on it. Is it the way the Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus are always so much larger than life? Is it the excesses, passions and often violent rage that they exhibit with such alarming regularity? Is it their intense relationship with mortal beings, or the way so many of what we know today have their origins in Greek legends?

Whatever it is, these stories have been a source of fun and entertainment for readers the world over since time immemorial. And with this retelling, Stephen Fry takes a modern, 21st century approach in the hopes that these stories will become more accessible, even to an audience who may not necessarily have any background whatsoever on Greek mythology.

It starts, as these things always does, with the story of creation, moving with alacrity to the birth of the Titans, the cruelties of Kronos and his eventual defeat in the hands of his son Zeus. I don’t need to issue a spoiler alert, do I? Everyone knows how that story turned out. In fact, I’m sure most people have heard these stories in one form or the other at one point in their lives. If nothing else, a lot of us have seen either the Clash of the Titans or Percy Jackson movies.

What’s different about this is the way Stephen Fry tells the story. First of all, its very British. I can almost imagine him writing this (or reading it aloud) while having crumpets and a cup of tea. The language is very current, and extremely funny. I found myself bursting into laughter at the unexpected humour in stories that have always seemed so serious, and I encourage everyone to read the footnotes because they are some of the most amusing things I’ve ever read in my life.

Cupid and Psyche. Persephone and the Underworld. Pygmalion and Galatea. Narcissus and himself. All the stories we’ve come to know so well are all here in this marvellous volume that I know I’ll be rereading in the near future. These are stories of love, ambition, with a side-helping of cautionary tales against the dangers of excessive pride and what the Gods call hubris.

I’ve already started on the follow up to this book and its just as good. Meanwhile, be sure to check out Mythos on Amazon or your local Waterstones. Its so so good.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Posted in bloggers, Books, Feminism, Politics, Reviews, women, Women's literature

Book Review: Becoming – Michelle Obama

Its hard to condense in a few short paragraphs how profoundly good this book is.

I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for a while now trying to process what I just read and the things I have learned. I have thought of little else since finishing Becoming at 1am this morning, and more than 12 hours later I’m still at a loss as to how to start reviewing it.

I can’t pinpoint the exact time I became a Michelle Obama fan. Maybe it was when I saw her on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden belting out Beyonce hits like nobody’s business.

Maybe it was when I saw a photo of her opening up the White House to kids and hula-hooping with them on the South Lawn.

I was definitely a fan when I heard her speak during a commencement rite in one of the high schools in America whose name I have now forgotten, encouraging young people, and young women especially, to pursue their dreams despite the odds stacked against them.

She knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the latter. She’s not just paying lip service when she talks to the marginalised and the disenfranchised about overcoming adversity, she’s talking from experience. Because their story is her story.

Most people would think that Becoming is the story of how a young black girl who grew up in the South Side of Chicago eventually made it into the White House, the sort of modern-day rags-to-riches Cinderella story that people love to read about.

Well, Michelle Robinson Obama is no Disney Princess. She would not be caught dead feeding birds and baking pies simply waiting for her prince to come. She’s just as likely to slay the dragon herself than she is to ever wait for a man to come and save her.

Hers was not an easy life. Her parents had to work hard to provide for their family, her mother sewed her clothes and she shared a room with her brother growing up because their entire apartment was smaller than her walk-in closet in the White House.

She grew up in a less tolerant America, where racism was widespread and people still held strong beliefs and prejudices against people of colour.

She talks about what it was like to grow up in that kind of environment, to know that you have to work twice as hard as anyone in order to be given the same recognition, all because of the colour of your skin.

Instead of falling victim to the narrative that seemed to be set out for her, though, she chose to rise above it, excelling in her studies, getting into Princeton and, later, Harvard.

She would also work at one of the top firms in Chicago where she’d meet the man who would eventually become her husband, and the leader of the free world.

Despite the gravitas of her story, and despite the weight and importance of the role she once held, Michelle Obama managed to come across as incredibly down to earth.

The book is written in such an engaging way that I didn’t realise I was nearing the end until she was talking about soaking in the last few moments of her life as First Lady.

At that point, she honestly felt less like the icon that she is and more of a friend.

For someone who’s been one half of the world’s most high-profile couple for the better part of the last decade, she is refreshingly candid and relatable.

She doesn’t gloss over her faults, like her tendency to go apoplectic with rage whenever she gets into an argument with her husband, or her need to put things in some kind of ordered lists that she can later tick off as being done.

She doesn’t deny that she has moments of self-doubt, days when she felt like she wasn’t good enough. She talked about how much it hurt when something she says is misconstrued or disproportionately blown up by the pundits and the media.

She was very open about the personal struggles she went through with her marriage, her  aversion to politics and her moments of resentment over the fact that she has to share her husband, and the father of her children, with the rest of America.

Through it all, she remained relentlessly optimistic and hopeful. Rather than dwelling on the things she can’t change, she chose to focus on the things that she could, finding things she was passionate about and pursuing them with gusto.

Time and time again she would butt heads with her own staff and opposing parties just to implement something she thinks would be good for a lot of people. And while there’s a lot of politics involved in that, I’m happy to say that politics did not play a major role in this book.

Instead, the struggle for equality was the central theme in this memoir, both for women and for people of colour.

I know it might sound trite or corny, but this book really resonated with me as it hammers home what it means to be a woman, of a different race, trying to make it in a city that is predominantly white.

When I first came to the UK, I met people who would always comment, with a tone of surprise, on how fluent my English was. I had a colleague who was shocked that I was interested in Caravaggio paintings and Bernini sculptures. One of the surgeons I used to work with expressed surprise that I’ve read Dickens.

They have this preconceived notions of Filipinos as people who receive limited education, who speak broken English, who are not interested in culture beyond our adobos and karaokes, and who form pockets of communities wherever they go because they don’t want to socialise with people who are not Asians.

I wasn’t conscious of doing it at the time, but I set out to shatter all of that just to prove that I come from a country that, for all its faults, are full of hardworking and intelligent people that are just as capable as any Westerner in any job or any role.

In the end, all anybody really needs is for someone to take notice and to give them the opportunity to prove they can do it.

I have never really felt like a victim of racial discrimination, and that’s because I’ve never allowed myself to be.

In the end, the colour of my skin is not the central plot of my story. The central plot is my hopes, dreams, aspirations and the many things that I still want to achieve, that I believe I can achieve.

Its very affirming to know that someone of Michelle Obama’s calibre has gone through the same thing, has been on the same journey.

To say that it is exactly the kind of book we need to be reading right now is an understatement. For women especially, it sends a message of hope and empowerment that is sorely lacking from the increasingly gratuitous and pretentious era of social media.

This book will hopefully encourage everyone to use whatever platform they have, whether its a small instagram following or a larger political stage, to tell their story for the purpose of inspiring others as this book has really inspired me.

Her story is our story. Her becoming is a message to all of us, but especially for young women, that we too can become.

Posted in Books, LGBT, Paranormal, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: The Dark Artifices Trilogy – Cassandra Clare

All the potential in the world will not amount to anything if there’s a flaw in the execution.

It pains me to say it, because I am a huge fan of the ShadowWorld and all things connected to it, but this trilogy did not quite live up to my expectations.

Maybe that’s my fault. I’ve been looking forward to Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs‘ story ever since they were introduced in The Mortal Instruments series.

I’ve wondered for so long about the secret behind the parabatai bond and why those who have undergone the ritual were forbidden to fall in love, which is the basic premise of this trilogy.

But while the relationship between these two was explored and discussed ad infinitum, I feel like Cassandra literally lost the plot about halfway through the second book.

I feel like she lost sight of why she was writing this book in the first place and the series took on a life of its own.

And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and while I did love discovering the world of the Faerie and the existence of other dimensions, the overall plot got too cluttered in the end.

That’s not to say that this series was bad.

I think the problem was that she tried too hard to please fans both new and old. There was a massive inclusion of characters from previous books, and I get that she was trying to tie all her past series in some way, but it all just got a little bit much.

The first book started out okay, I thought the main plot of that was interesting and really rich in Shadowhunter history. But then it all slightly veered from the road that I thought it was going to go and it never quite totally got back on track.

There was a little too much focus on the romantic elements, especially in the latter half of the second and most of the third book. Even in the midst of the apocalypse, people still found the time to worry about their love life. Go figure.

So the book wasn’t brilliant, but there were elements of it that were beautifully crafted.

I like how Cassandra Clare continues to preach the importance of inclusion and acceptance in her books. The tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders could almost be a parallel for the current state of the world, prejudice and all.

I love how there’s no shortage of diverse couples in this book. For Cassandra, love is love is love is love. She’s always been a big supporter of the LGBT community and that shines through in her book.

FURTHERMORE, there’s an added element in this book that I thought was absolutely RISQUE for what is essentially still a YA book. I wasn’t sure whether it was entirely appropriate but I have never advocated author censorship, and that part was so beautifully done that I think it might actually end up sending the right message to teens.

Intrigued? Read the book to find out more.

The characters were well-developed. I love the tight-knit relationship of the Blackthorn family and how their love for each other evolved over time as a result of trials and heartbreaking loss.

I like how this series showed that the world is not black and white, and that no one is all good and all bad. I love how it showed that, despite all the evil in the world, everyone is still capable of doing good things in the name of love and family.

I understand that this review is probably not that coherent. To be honest, I’ve yet to decide whether I loved it, liked it or regretted it. And may I just say that the books were a whopper? The last one was nearly as thick as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix!

This series is a far cry from The Infernal Devices trilogy, which will remain forever my favourite, but ultimately, and I’ve literally just decided this, its still a good series. And I look forward to the next one, and the continuation of the Blackthorn saga.

Rating: Solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Love In The Time of Cholera

Its funny how some books turn out to be exactly what you expect it to be, and how others  can totally disarm you by telling a story that you didn’t know you needed to be told.

When I first picked up this book, maybe a couple of years ago, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. For some reason, it just didn’t feel like my cup of tea. I was told that this was one of the greatest love stories of all time, so it really should have been up my alley.

But whether it was because I read a book by this author when I was younger that confused me so much that it put me off reading any more of his works, or simply because I didn’t feel like reading a grand love story at the time, for some reason I couldn’t find the will to start the book.

So I sold it at a car boot sale and told myself if its meant to be, the book will find its way back to me, just like in the movie Serendipity.

Fast forward to November of 2018 and I was perusing the used books section of Powell’s in Portland of all places, and I came across a battered copy of Love In The Time of Cholera. It wasn’t MY copy of the book of course, this isn’t a movie people, John Cusack will not be making an appearance here.

But it finally felt like the right time to read this book that I’ve been hearing so much about. I was ready to read about the grand passions of a girl and a boy experiencing love for the first time, going through trials and tribulations before finally getting their happy ending.

So imagine my surprise when I realised this book was essentially about growing old, and finding – at the twilight of your life when imminent death is all but a certainty – a love that’s been “waiting” for you to acknowledge it. Like, I’m sorry, but I totally wasn’t expecting THAT.

Instead of the sanitised scenes found in most romance novels, where its probably a crime for Prince Charming to fart or take a shit, we have graphic descriptions of sagging skin and bowel movements. There was a scene about ENEMAS for crying out loud. Why in the world were people so enamoured of this book? What is so romantic about putting cream on someone else’s bedsores? If I wanted to read about that, I’d crack open one of my nursing textbooks.

The further on I get with the book, though, the more I realised how similar I was to Florentino Ariza, the male protagonist of the story. He thinks love is all about the grand passions and poetic love letters and midnight serenades. He has kept the flame of unrequited love going for fifty one years, nine months and four days, and he prides himself on having suffered that long in the name of true love.

That’s not to say he’s been completely abstinent. Love doesn’t preclude a man’s need for sex after all (insert eyeroll here), but he justifies his actions by telling himself that while he has shared his body freely, his heart has only ever belonged to Fermina Daza.

Fermina Daza in contrast is much more sensible. For me, its through her eyes and through her story that we get a more realistic picture of what it is to be in love.

Its through the description of her marriage that I realise why this book has won not only a Nobel Prize but also the hearts of those who truly understood what the book was trying to say. Now I’m not very good at conveying something I feel so strongly about, but I think its important for me to try in the case of this book.

You see, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from this brilliant piece of work is that love is at its most beautiful when its real. The secret of long-standing marriages is that the couple has found a partnership that goes way beyond initial attraction and chemistry.

Its the kind of partnership that withstands the test of time, that means you are able to love your spouse even when you can’t stand the sight or idea of them (something that I think is bound to happen when you’re sharing your life with someone).

Love is about the daily minutiae of married life, the many opportunities you have to learn about one another’s habits to the point that it becomes as automatic as breathing to wash someone’s bottom when they can no longer do it themselves.

Love is about the ups and downs, the many twists and turns, and its about the personal sacrifices you make in the name of something that is bigger than yourself.

Love is about the immense loneliness of losing the person who’s been by your side through the years, and how you feel the pain of their absence in a way that is similar to how an amputee feels about their lost limb.

Love knows no time, and certainly no age. It isn’t the sole property of the young. Love can find you in the most unexpected moments, often when you’ve stopped looking. It may not be how you imagined it to be, but it will be love all the same, even when you’re so close to dying that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime, and anyplace.

I will not spoil the book for those that haven’t read it yet, but the one thing I will say is that it was an incredible joy to read it. The writing flowed so beautifully and it is immensely quotable of course.

This is definitely one of those books that you should read at least once in this lifetime.

Three out of five stars.