Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Blue Afternoon – William Boyd

 

2000px-Flag_of_the_Philippines.svg

One Tuesday morning, one of my favourite surgeons randomly said to me “So Angie, I never knew that the at one point the Philippines was at war with America.” I thought to myself that this was an incredibly odd topic to bring up out of the blue. I had no idea where this came from and where he was going with this statement.

It turned out he’d read a book by William Boyd that was set in the Philippines around the time that the country was under the rule of the US government, and he recommended that I put this book in my massive to-read pile because he was sure I’d find it interesting. I was curious enough to look it up on Goodreads, and I became convinced that I should read this book when I found out it was a love story.

I was under the impression that this was going to be another one of those war books that people seemed to like so much. In my head, I imagined scenes similar to Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale on Pearl Harbour and it would be all angsty and heartbreaking.

439c998ca0f2d0529651d275aff941c1

Cue tears and boxes of Kleenex. 

giphy-2

It soon became clear that this was in no way similar to Pearl Harbour. Sure the premise seemed to follow the pattern of romance novels set in that era. Daughter meets her long-lost biological father and ends up helping him in his quest to find his long-lost love.

With nothing to go on but rumours and an old photograph, they set out for Portugal in the hopes of a happy reunion and along the way, this epic love story was told to the daughter in retrospect. I thought for sure that I already knew where this was going. I was so smug in my belief that the ending to this novel was a foregone conclusion.

How very wrong I was. 

Warning, there will be spoilers ahead! 

To my everlasting surprise, this novel had mystery, passion, deception, intrigue and yes, a bit of romance if one stretches one’s imagination enough to call infidelity and faking your own death romantic. 

This wasn’t a story about love so much as it is a story about desire and the lengths someone would go to in order to satisfy that desire. I’m sorry, but the hopeless romantic in me still believes that love is not love if you can’t shout it out on the rooftops, and that when it’s right it should be easy. This pairing was neither right nor easy and it certainly wasn’t love.

So yeah, the love story wasn’t what I expected it to be. The good thing is, though, that this book had a lot of things going for it that kept me turning the pages even when I was so exhausted from work.

First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever read a published international novel that was set entirely in the Philippines. I’m glad we’re getting that level of exposure as a country and that our history is being discovered by people who read William Boyd.

tenor

I often think its a shame that we don’t make enough of a point of sharing our vast, colourful and interesting history. We don’t make enough of an effort to invest in museums that show the world what we’ve gone through as a nation and as a people. They can and should make a large-scale Hollywood movie out of it, in my own totally unbiased opinion.

The description of the setting was also authentic and incredibly atmospheric. It felt like I was transported to Manila in the  turn of the century and watching the sun set over Manila Bay. I had the sudden urge to fly home and explore the remnants of the walled city of Intramuros.

439a871bb4533bdd81ba781e4a587373
Sunset over Manila Bay. Photo credits to Pinterest as I’ve actually never been here myself. I KNOW. SHAME ON ME. 

The other thing I liked, and which should not have surprised me given that it was a surgeon who recommended this book, was that it showed the evolution of medicine in the Philippines.  The nurse in me found this all very interesting. Medicine and surgery play a central and pivotal role in this story, and my inner geek was shouting with glee when I realised just how pivotal a role it played.

Anyway, I’ve blathered on for far too long when all I really wanted to say was that I really liked this book and I’m glad I gave it a shot. I wasn’t sure about the author’s writing style initially, but it grew on me because the plot was just so damn interesting. There were a lot of unanswered questions at the end, and to be honest the ending was ambiguous as hell. But that’s part of its charm I suppose.

I really recommend this book to anyone but most especially for people like me who might miss home every now and then. 

Cheers bookworms! xx

 

Posted in bloggers, Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews, women

Book Review: Anatomy of A Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Now here’s a blinding flash of the obvious: sex, lies and scandals sell.

giphy-2.gif

Anatomy of a Scandal is the latest in a string of novels that tackle the subject matter of marriage and infidelity, and how passion can make anyone do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Honestly, I have long since removed my rose-colored glasses. I no longer see the world through the filters of my childhood Disney influences. I am grown-up and realistic enough to accept that there’s no such thing as perfect relationships.

However.

I am increasingly frustrated by the way marriage is portrayed in the number of books I’ve read recently. I mean, is nothing sacred anymore? When did fidelity become the exception rather than the rule? When did society learn to turn the other cheek when a husband is caught cheating on his wife or vice versa? When did we become so blasé about something that – to me- is so fundamentally wrong?

68747470733a2f2f73332e616d617a6f6e6177732e636f6d2f776174747061642d6d656469612d736572766963652f53746f7279496d6167652f4b5241796f6c6f486a4842716e413d3d2d3438303136343238312e3134656432636134

Okay, now that I’ve had my little rant, let me try to actually get a coherent review of this book out.

Anatomy of A Scandal is actually a courtroom drama more than anything else. A charming and influential MP is accused of rape by a woman with whom he’s been having an affair with for several months. This makes the case trickier because the issue of consent is blurred by the fact that they’ve had consensual sex several times prior to the incident in question (a quickie at the elevator right at the heart of the Houses of Parliament, HONESTLY).

This book really gets down to the nitty-gritty. For all that I hate the fact that this is another book about a cheating cretin, I really do admire it for the awareness it brings to the public about the kind of rape where consent is a grey area rather than a clear-cut case of “she didn’t want it”.

According to this book, the prosecutor has to make the jury believe that at the point of penetration, the accused was fully aware that they victim did not consent to the act. So really, she could have been enjoying the foreplay but if she didn’t want to go all the way and yet the man still insisted on scoring a home run, its still rape. I never knew that.

This book also brings to light the reason why so many victims do not come forward about their experiences. I mean, I don’t mean to generalise, but there is so much burden placed on the victim to provide proof of rape. And when you do come forward, your character and history are scrutinised, criticised and judged by everyone involved; your business becomes everybody’s business.

If you’re somehow the kind of woman who likes to look good, dress sexy or flirt every now and then, people seem to think you deserved what happened to you. As if one thing led to the other. As if there was no distinction between being a flirt and unsolicited sex. In this case, the odds against the victim are stacked even higher because she was “the other woman”.

It’s book likes these that make me thankful that the world is now paying more attention to things like sexual harassment in the workplace and that victims of assault have found their voice through movement like Time’s Up and Me Too. Where there once was just ripples in the ocean, feminism is now making waves. And thank God for that because its about damn time that abusers (and I’m not saying that they are exclusively of the male variety) finally answer for their sins.

Anyway, this book isn’t really a crime novel, nor is it the kind of book you pick up if you want to enjoy a fast-paced and thrilling plot. The story unfolds gradually, and in a non-linear fashion through the use of flashbacks. There were very few plot twists and none that you wouldn’t see coming.

It’s told from several point of views, one of which is the wife of the accused, which is why I went on the whole cheating rant because I just felt so sorry for her. I mean, you work hard to maintain a marriage, you compromise in order to make a partnership work and you think things are going along swimmingly AND THEN you’re completely blindsided not only by the discovery of an affair but by a far greater and more public scandal. Its enough to turn someone off the whole institution of marriage altogether.

taylor-swift-take-a-deep-breath

I think I’m going to read a romance novel next just to remind myself that the world is still a romantic place and that as long as the people in it continue to believe in true love, hope still springs eternal. Sappy, I know, but I need to take this belief with me when I go to sleep at night.

Because if love no longer exists, and all we’re left with are the lies and the scandal and the constant infidelity, what is the point of waking up in the morning? Scary thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles 

If you’ve followed my blog since I’ve resurrected it, you’ll know that every review I make will inevitably be linked to some kind of anecdote from my childhood. Far be it for me to disappoint readers at this stage.

My love of detective novels sprang from the days when I used to rummage through my older cousins’ collection of Nancy Drew novels. I loved how she would collect clues, make deductions and ultimately unmask the culprit and it would turn out to be someone that I wasn’t expecting. I always tried to play the game of whodunit but Nancy was always one step ahead of me. I loved those books. Every time I got good marks in school, it was a toss-up whether I would ask for a new Nancy Drew novel or the latest Sweet Valley installation. Sometimes I was able to sweet-talk my mum into buying me both.

From The Mystery of The 99 Steps to the books where she collaborated with The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew was a constant companion during my teenage years.

And that was a good thing because I think she influenced me to take pride in my intelligence, never mind the fact that she was also a leggy strawberry blonde. Anyway, I grew up loving whodunit and crime/mystery books. I bought all 45 installations of JD Robb’s In Death books for more than just the Eve and Roarke storyline, I genuinely love a good mystery. I am still waiting with bated breath for the next installation of the Cormoran Strike novels.

Dear JK Rowling, I know you’re probably busy with the Harry Potter prequels and being a scriptwriter and such but I need you to write the next Cormoran Strike novel please.

I was looking up things to do last month because I was really really bored and I wanted to participate in something that I can be passionate about. So I thought I’d join one of the book clubs that meet regularly at Waterstone’s Piccadilly. There’s an Armchair Murders Book Club that meets once a month and it was after one of those meetings that it came out that I, bookworm extraordinaire, have never read an Agatha Christie novel.

Seeing as I live in Britain and was attending a book club whose members were primarily British, you can imagine the looks of incredulity and aghast that I received after I let that little fact slip out. Agatha Christie is a British national treasure; I think she might have been made a Dame or something. She’s so famous that even though I’ve never read any of her works, I do know of her. So the manager at Waterstones decided we’d remedy this little affliction of mine then and there and proceeded to place Agatha Christie’s first published work in my hands with the strictest instruction to buy it. Like immediately. I was pretty sure I would be refused entrance to my favourite bookstore if I didn’t comply, so buy it I did.

So I’ve only just finished the book last night and boy, was it an experience. Have you ever watched an episode of Sherlock? Yeah, the feeling is the same. Halfway through the book I gave up on trying to pretend I had a brain and decided I would just let Hercule Poirot solve the mystery for me and enumerate the ways in which I have been too obtuse to see the clues to the murderer’s identity. I would enjoy the book far better that way.tumblr_nr92xgTYYd1uzk74go1_500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book is set in a country house in Essex. Emily Inglethorp has been poisoned in her own house and all evidence seemingly points to her new husband, 20 years her junior. Hercule Poirot has been brought in by his friend Hastings to help solve the mystery. Did the husband do it? Could it be either one of her stepsons? Or perhaps, the butler? I’m kidding.

The book took me on a wild ride of seemingly innocous instances that turned out to be significant and events that were made a big deal of but turned out to be inconsequential. There was a point when I had no idea what was going on, all I knew was that I was thoroughly entertained. Hercule, like many men who are too intelligent, is also a little bit crazy I think. He reminds me a little bit of Sherlock as portrayed in the tv series. giphyPoirot would go off on tangents that would turn out to yield frutiful information, he would notice everything, he’d already anticipated how each person would react and had forestalled it with a countermove of his own. Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I would think the current incarnation of Sherlock was influenced by the Dame rather than Sir Arthur.

There were no high-tech gadgets involved; Poirot used good old-fashioned observation and powers of deduction. Ok, so some of the plot twists were a little too contrived and convenient. But they weren’t far-fetched. In fact, I suspected one of the plot twists halfway through the book but there were a lot of red herrings that led me astray.

All in all, I found it a really great book, a real page turner, unputdownable. I really liked her prose, it was easy to read and the writing was elegant. I particularly liked how she used her experience of being a pharmacist (not to sure if it was a pharmacist or a nurse) during the war in the use of poison as a murder weapon. I was also really intrigued by the insight into the approaches to medicine during that time period, it makes me appreciate just how far we’ve come.

I’m surely going to read the other Hercule Poirot and maybe the Miss Marple books as well if this book is any indication of the rest of the series. Thank you Waterstones for the recommendation!