Posted in bloggers, Medical, Politics, Reviews

Book Review: This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay (and also, A Love Letter to the NHS)

As someone who will officially become British in the next 6 months (after dropping a whopping £5000 on residency and naturalisation fees of course), I now feel like I have the authority to list some of the things from my adopted country that I’m most proud of.

1. Harry Potter

2. The very commendable ability to insult someone while still managing to sound polite

3. Scones, clotted cream and jam (yum!)

4. Intermediate rent for key workers

5. The Tube (believe me, I’ve travelled a lot and I’ve yet to find a more extensive or well-run transportation service)

6. That damned accent that makes everything sound like a Shakespearean play, even when someone is telling you to sod off

7. The NHS

This post, and this book review, is really an ode to number 7. I freakin’ love the NHS. Call me naive, but I think its a modern miracle. And I say this both from the perspective of working in it, and from having been a patient needing its services.

I arrived in London seven years ago, and within the first four months I managed to get myself bitten by my landlady’s dog to such an extent that it necessitated actual surgery.

Up to this point I had never been admitted to a hospital, never had a cannula put in and have never had to take anything more serious than the occasional antibiotic. Unless you count the cholesterol-lowering medications but hey, I blame genetics for that.

ANYWAY. I was totally unfamiliar with the country’s health system. Heck, I didn’t even know where or what my nearest hospital was. I had to take a bus to a certain hospital in North London and hoped someone there would know what the hell needed to be done with me and my gaping leg wound.

I arrived at the A and E and was seen within the hour (I was later to learn that this was an exception rather than the rule). I had a line put in for the first time in my life, was given antibiotics and was asked, quite stupidly in my opinion, if I cared about the appearance of the leg.

Being somewhat vain about my legs, I said of course with an admirably controlled level of incredulity that such a thing needed to even be asked. I was then informed that in that case I would need to head to another hospital which specialised in plastics and that I would most likely need surgery.

Off I go, taking the Victoria Line and changing at Green Park to take the Jubilee line, stopping somewhere in the general vicinity of Hampstead before taking the bus to get to where I needed to go. I got to the hospital and was scheduled for a day surgery procedure the next day.

On the day of the surgery I was seen by a very lovely and good-looking plastic registrar. I would have given him consent to do anything and everything but all he wanted was my ok to do a washout +/- skin graft procedure. I was wheeled into the anaesthetic room and asked to count backwards from 10. And that was the last thing I remembered before waking up in the recovery room an hour later.

After a couple of hours, I was discharged with take-home meds, dressing instructions and a smile. I then took my very stressed mother and aunt (who were supposed to be on holiday to visit me in London) to eat some peri-peri chicken at Nando’s.

I did all these without having to pay a single penny, and without having to worry about insurance, or my lack thereof.

I don’t know any other country where anxious patients, especially those new to the country like myself, would be able to expect this kind of service. Its a privilege that we take for granted everyday because we are so immersed in it, but that’s exactly what it is: a privilege.

Its a privilege to have the services that the NHS provides, and its a privilege to be a part of those services.

I haven’t read other reviews of Adam Kay’s book and I don’t give a fig what other people say. To me, what I got from it was a love for the NHS, despite the stress, the understaffing, the unbelievable pressure to meet somewhat unrealistic targets and the perpetual financial crises that meant you rely on the goodwill of the staff most of the time.

This Is Going to Hurt is in turns funny, poignant, frustrating, touching, and above all things, wonderfully and painfully accurate. I laughed at the bits I recognised (because I experience it day in and day out) and teared up over the things that, despite our best efforts, we health professionals can’t do anything about.

There were moments that seemed so absurd that non-medics would think its fiction. But believe me, the number of times I’ve gone to work and been in a situation where I’ve said after “You cannot make this shit up” cannot be counted on both hands.

I bitch and moan about work as much as the next person, but it only takes me 5 minutes to remember that without the NHS I will not have a career, nor would I have had the experiences, opportunities and relationships that I’m blessed with today.

The NHS is neither good or bad. It simply IS. At the end of the day, one learns to suck it up during the bad days because inevitably, there will be good days that make all the effort worth it.

Like when someone is walking pain free for the first time in their life because of a well-done knee replacement. Or when you help deliver a couple’s firstborn after they’ve experienced more than one miscarriage.

These moments are everything. And for the cynics who say that the NHS provides sub-par services and that I’m idealising the whole situation, believe me, I’M NOT.

I’ve had days where, just like Adam, I felt like throwing in the towel and maybe moving to the private sector where I will at least be paid more. But something keeps me staying and sticking with the NHS. I really truly believe we get it right more times than we get it wrong.

I, for one, am glad that someone finally made the effort to make the general public more aware of what really goes on within the four walls of the hospital.

Once, someone I knew who worked in a different country shared an article written by a nurse who used to work for the NHS, and who had quit because she had gotten traumatised over the deteriorating quality of services in her hospital.

This nurse highlighted a lot of things that are true in most hospitals in the country. Its a tale of a health system that’s on its knees and a government that continues to be ignorant about its plight.

We get daily updates about Brexit negotiations but no one thinks it important to point out that patients with serious health conditions are delayed in seeing a doctor because of an A and E that’s full to bursting? Ridiculous.

Anyway, this person sharing the article erroneously thought that the nurse didn’t have the right to complain because third-world countries have the same problems and the nurses get paid even less, the message being that NHS nurses should just suck it up and get on with it like the rest of the world do.

While I acknowledge that the UK still have it better than, say, the Philippines, the fact is that the point of the article was not about salary or any kind of compensation. The article made an effort to bring to light some of the very real issues the NHS faces, and to bring it the level of something as crude as money is to take away the power of the message it was trying to get across.

What can we do to help?

That’s a question Adam Kay got asked a lot during his book tour apparently. The answer is as varied as the medical field itself.

Maybe next time you see a junior doctor who’s spent more than 24 hours on shift answering bleep after bleep after bleep, or a nurse at the end of the operating list who cannot decide whether she’s more tired or hungry, you’ll find it in your heart to offer them a KitKat.

Maybe during the next election think long and hard about who you’re voting for and ask yourself whether they are the once in a lifetime politicians that will actually care about our health services. (Something to keep in mind now that I can actually vote).

Or if you are part of the noble majority of the population that work for the NHS, maybe be a bit kinder to your colleagues. We are all on this (sinking) boat together, and we’ll hold on to it until they tell us we need to jump ship and swim.

I am extremely proud to work for the NHS, and I am extremely overjoyed that books like these exist.

5 stars.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, Reviews, Steampunk

Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

When my parents and I visited my cousin in Switzerland last year, she bought us these made-to-order truffles that came in a gorgeous gold box with a blue ribbon around it. At first it looked and tasted like your ordinary run-of-the mill chocolate, and then you kept chewing and chewing and chewing, and suddenly all sorts of flavours explode in your mouth, and its like you discover everything that’s good about the world in that one piece of chocolate truffle.

I know it sounds random, but that is the closest metaphor I could find to describe what it felt like to read this book. 

First of all, I don’t know what Steampunk means, okay? As a blogger and wannabe book reviewer, I should be able to provide a definition for that genre on request but I can’t. This book apparently falls under the genre, and as far as I can tell steampunk is a general term for something that’s set in the Victorian era but contains futuristic (and even fantastical) elements.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I don’t know what steampunk means, because I have never read any novel as hard to categorise and put into a box as this one. It defies genres, it defies explanations, and, at different times while reading it, I thought it defined all common sense in the best way possible.

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a simple story about a clerk who works for the Home Office in Whitehall during the Victorian era who was  saved by – of all things – a pocket watch from becoming a victim of a terrible bombing. He traces the origins of this watch back to a mysterious and enigmatic watchmaker on Filigree street, and from there, all sorts of mayhem ensues.

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WARNING: HEADING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY HERE. 

I didn’t quite know what to make of this book at first. By the time I thought to wonder what the hell I was reading, I was already halfway through the book. And that is a testament to the author’s talent as a writer. She can make even the most mundane of things seem interesting. 

And let me tell you, its very easy to judge this book as – as one reviewer on Goodreads so eloquently put it – a one-way ticket to Snoozeville. Those looking for heart-stopping action or a fully-formed plot would find it difficult to get through this book. On the surface, nothing really seems to be happening. Or at least, nothing important anyway.

I think this is one of those books that is more character-driven than plot-driven. The strength of the book lies not in its narrative but rather in the developing relationships between the characters, particularly that of Thaniel (said clerk) and Keita Mori (watchmaker).

There was a very clear chemistry between these two men, a kind of alchemical attraction that is evident in every interaction, even when they’re just sitting around sipping green tea. Their conversations were rapid fire and rife with secret glances and inside jokes; it felt like we, as readers, were being treated to a glimpse of something so unbearably intimate.

It was all so very subtly done that I didn’t even realise I was actually reading a love story until I REALISED I WAS READING A LOVE STORY.

Confession Time: I reread this book last night because it was one of those books that I sort of whizzed through because I was just so impatient to get to the ending. I was never really quite sure that I wasn’t just losing my mind and literally reading too much into things, such that I was seeing and feeling sexual tension where there was none.

But nope. No two ways about it, this book is a bloody romance novel, albeit a really subtle and well-crafted one.

Finding the romance amidst everything that was going on plot-wise was like, I don’t know, that first bite of chocolate truffle, or as Katy Perry once wrote in one of her songs, like eating hard candy with a surprise centre. I didn’t expect it, and it somehow felt more magical to find it because it was so unexpected (kind of like love itself, I suppose).

And the romance was just one of the many pleasant surprises in this book. There were endearing touches of whimsy everywhere, especially in Keita Mori’s clockwork inventions. Everything about the house on Filigree Street feels enchanting, amazing and well ahead of its time.

In fact, my third favourite character (and Thaniel and Mori win by a very narrow margin only by virtue of the fact that they’re ACTUAL human beings) is a mischievous sock-loving clockwork octopus named Katsu.

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Photo credits to Brian Callahan (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rNDra)

That’s not to say that the book didn’t have its darker moments. It calls to question everything we know about time and the future, specifically our ability to predict it.

Don’t you guys find it mind-bending sometimes how one simple decision can alter our lives forever? Like how, if we decide to take the later train instead of the one we usually catch because we were running late because we decided to party on a weeknight the night before, we end up missing the chance to meet our future husband and therefore all our future children end up being unborn?

Doesn’t it freak you out sometimes how life seems to be made up of all these infinitesimal moments of chance and missed opportunities? 

It sure as hell freaks me out.

Anyway, I’ve gone on and on as usual when all I really wanted to say was that you all should give this book a chance. The reviews have been hit-or-miss so far, and I suppose its all a matter of taste, but I personally would vouch for it. And also, the cover is TO DIE FOR.

Keep an open mind dear readers and fellow bookworms. Open your heart to a lonely Japanese man with a mechanical pet octopus, and you will find yourself wanting to journey to Filigree street, and just like Thaniel, want to stay there forever,

FIVE STARS.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Young Adult

Book Review: Monsters of Verity Duology – V.E. Schwab

She tried to swim to the surface but it kept stretching out of reach. It was like the cusp between waking and sleep, where you couldn’t hold on to your thoughts. Couldn’t hold on to anything.

But she held on to him.

Once in a while, you come across the kind of written work that makes you wish you had the talent to craft something so beautiful out of something that’s so dark and twisted.

I’ve loved V.E. Schwab ever since I picked up the Shades of Magic trilogy last year. As an author, I think there are no limits to what her imagination can conceive and what she can put into words. In a time where everyone seems to be writing about love triangles and sparkly vampires, she dares to be different.

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This Savage Song, the first book in the Monsters of Verity series, opens up with our “heroine” committing arson by burning down the chapel in the Catholic school she was attending. Talk about something starting with a bang. The opening chapter alone made me sit up and take notice. Right out of the gate, I knew this was not going to be a typical YA fantasy novel.

The concept behind this series is simple and yet strangely complex at the same time. Verity is a city teeming with monsters that arise in the aftermath of horrible crimes and savage acts. There are three known kinds: Corsai, who are born out of violent but non-lethal acts, like to prey on flesh. Malchai, born out of murder, feed on blood.

And last but not least, the Sunai, who are born out crimes so horrible that they take out the lives of more than one person, feed on souls. However, they can only feed on the souls of sinners, and to hear their song is to feel your soul being reaped from you one note at a time. They are considered to be the worst kind of monsters because they look, walk and talk just like humans, until you look into the bottomless depths of their eyes.

The city itself is divided into two factions: the North City, ruled by Callum Harker, who “controls” the monsters and who makes the inhabitants pay for his protection; and the South City, ruled by Henry Flynn, whose small band of soldiers patrol the streets in order to keep humans safe from the monsters.

And because this is some kind of retelling of Romeo and Juliet (in like, a sick, distorted kind of way), OF COURSE, Callum and Henry have  two offsprings that meet somewhere and get to know each other in a way that makes readers hopeful that some kind of love story will arise from the gruesomeness of this tale.

Right.

If you’re looking for happily-ever-after, you might want to move on to the new Stephenie Meyer novel or reread Twilight. There are no cutesy, holding hands in the dark and chasing each other down the beach moments here.

Kate Harker is no Juliet. And while August Flynn may have the looks of someone who would spout sonnets in the moonlight and liken his lady love to a summer’s day, he would just as likely kill someone with his violin than he would make love to a woman.

I love atypical and imperfect main characters. I think they’re so much more relatable than those characters that are perceived to be perfect by everyone around them. I think the fact that these characters are neither purely good nor evil makes them more compelling and interesting, and it mirrors the truth of what it means to be human.

Its not always black and white. We are defined largely by the sum total of our life experiences and the choices we’ve made and have stood by. I think what I realised while reading this book is that life tends to be one large grey area most of the time, and no one really has the right to judge anyone by what they do when faced with an impossible situation.

Apart from being thought-provoking, this two-book series is also action-packed and gruesome in the best way possible. It is not afraid to be graphic and descriptive about mankind’s capacity for violence, and it just makes me think about how we’ve come a long way from the days when YA was synonymous to Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in the Sweet Valley series.

There is a lot of violence in these books, but the good thing is that it never feels gratuitous or senseless. The violence feels like an integral part of the story; it feels like we NEED to see and get past the bad parts in order to get to some kind of resolution, just like real life.

Some part of me always knew how this series would end, and I wasn’t far off in my predictions actually. Still, when I came to the climactic conclusion of ‘Our Dark Duet‘ (the second book in the series), I found myself sobbing like a baby and crying ugly tears, even as I knew it could not have ended any other way.

The author allows you to develop such a personal connection with her characters. You are able to share in their joys, sorrows, triumphs and loss. But it also means that the ending of the story packs a real punch because you feel like you’ve gone through this roller coaster journey with them.

So no, it wasn’t a happy ending, but what it was was hopeful and redemptive. It leaves you with the feeling that this is a story that is just beginning, and that there is so much more work to be done before there can be real and lasting peace in Verity.

People were messy. They were defined not only by what they’d done, but by what they would have done, under different circumstances, moulded as much by their regrets as their actions, choices they stood by and those they wished they could undo. Of course, there was no going back – time only moved forward – but people could change.

For worse. For better. It wasn’t easy. The world was complicated. Life was hard. And so often, living hurt.

So make it worth the pain. 

I am under no illusions that this is an unbiased review. I love love love this series. To me, it is absolutely faultless, and I would really recommend it for people who love world-building, fantasy and a taste of something different. Happy reading, bookworms!

Posted in bloggers, Books, Fantasy, LGBT, relationships, romance

Book Review: Murmuration – TJ Klune

Ever read a book where you spent a good 10 to 15 minutes staring into space (wondering what the hell you just read) as soon as you turned the last page?

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Welcome to the world of Murmuration. Its confusing, amazing, heartbreaking, fascinating, wonderful, traumatic and lovely all at the same time.

Its seriously f***ked up. 

This was recommended by a friend on Goodreads who thought it would be a worthy addition to the list of LGBT books on my bookshelf. I thought I’d be reading some fluffy love story that will make me feel all gooey inside after I’ve read it. I was reading this while on a birthday trip to Disneyland Paris, for crying out loud!

So there I was, all glowy and happy from a day of spending time with Mickey, Minnie and my favourite Disney Princesses (and super high on adrenaline after riding two rollercoasters in one afternoon), and I thought it would be a good idea to finish the evening reading something light, something that’s not so taxing on the brain cells. I was on holiday after all.

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This book totally made my brain hurt. Is there such a thing as mental pain? Because I’m pretty sure that describes the sum of all my feelings towards this book.

I can’t even give you a synopsis because I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s just say that I thought this was a story about a small town boy (living in a lonely world) in the 1950s who falls in love with another small town boy and that they would have to fight to overcome the prejudices that were prevalent at the time.

I started to get warm and fuzzy feelings from the development of the romance (I do love a good friends-to-lovers story) and from the level of acceptance that surrounded these two human beings. I thought, my my, what an awesome story, there is still hope for mankind after all.

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I don’t know when the vague sense of unease started to creep in. I don’t know where I started to get an inkling that there’s something not quite right with this story. Amidst the cute diner scenes, fourth of July picnics and the charms of walking home hand in hand in the dark, I started to feel like this was all too good to be true. There’s something seriously wrong with this story.

Okay confession time.

I skipped ahead to the ending. 

Okay, okay, I’m sorry. But COME ON, have you ever had the distinct experience of reading a book by TJ Klune? The man doesn’t have it in him to be brief, okay? His books are incredibly lengthy, and while the writing is good there are moments when you just want to yell at the man to get a damned editor because surely there is a better, SHORTER, way of writing a story.

Just get the bloody hell on with it.

Anyway. I skipped to the ending because I know I won’t be able to sleep a wink without knowing for sure which one of my crazy theories were correct. I was sure that it was either one or the other. I have read a lot of books and its very rare that a plot line is able to surprise me. I’m usually always spot on with my predictions.

I was so far off the mark with this one that its not even funny.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve been living under a rock or what, but I thought this was one of the most unique plots I’ve ever read in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such an insanely fascinating story in my entire life.

Does it have plot holes? Sure. Absolutely. Enough to rival the holes on the ozone layer in fact.

Does it make sense? Hell, no. It doesn’t. It requires a lengthy stretch of the imagination to even conceive that this book is within the realms of possibility.

What it was, though, was vastly entertaining. It will keep you on your toes, constantly thinking up explanations for the things that are happening. It will drive you crazy wondering what the hell is going on. It will keep you in a heightened sense of dread, especially when things are going so well for the main protagonists, because you are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It will make you cry. There’s all sorts of feels in this book, and the ending is bittersweet in the way really good stories are (Hello, Inception). It will make you feel like maybe its okay to not have a happily-ever-after, as long as you can be happy for now.

I‘m pretty sure this book took a little piece of my heart with it. 

Let me just say, in conclusion, that it constantly amazes me to think about what the human mind is capable of. It is capable of so much invention and innovation as the seat of our intelligence. It is capable of so much destruction when common sense is overruled by emotion, such as pain.

It is capable of dreaming up stories such as this.

We can spend a hundred years studying the human mind and I don’t think we will ever reach the limit of its capabilities, nor will we ever fully answer the mysteries inherent in the minor miracle that is our brain. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we’re not meant to overanalyse how we think, how we feel and how we came to be who we are.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in this book, its that there’s very little point in examining and cross-examining why we make the choices we make and why we live the way we do. That’s not the point.

The point is simply to live, the best way you know how. 

 

 

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 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!