Posted in Young Adult, LGBT, friendship, dating, family

Book Review: Loveless – Alice Osman

I had my first kiss when I was twenty seven with a guy I’d met while speed dating. I grew up with all kinds of ideas about how my first kiss was going to go. Hopeless romantic that I was (and still am, probably) I imagined either a moonlit walk on the beach or a romantic candlelight dinner with a full orchestra playing Your Song by Elton John. Fireworks were essential, both literally and figuratively.

What I didn’t expect was dinner at a sushi restaurant (bad idea) and being kissed in the the middle of Trafalgar Square (okay, not a bad location) by someone I was only dating because I felt like I HAD to. At that point, everyone I knew was pairing up, getting married, having kids – ticking all those boxes that we had been brainwashed since birth to believe were the ONLY things that gave life meaning.

At that point, I felt like the odd one, the weirdo who was holding out for something that didn’t exist. Maybe saving your first kiss for someone special was a myth that only existed in movies. As one of my friends put it, what was more important was experience. And apparently, I need lots and lots of those.

Needless to say, my first kiss was a flop, I never saw the guy again because he wanted to get serious after only the second date and I knew I didn’t like him that way. He was just a box I needed to tick, and I think I know now that every dating experience I’ve ever had were like that. I felt like I HAD to date, I HAD to make the effort, otherwise I was going to spend my entire life alone, the lonely spinster perpetually thinking about what might have been, the old lady who spends winters by the fireplace knitting, surrounded by cats – alone, lonely, LOVELESS.

Bollocks to that.

It took me quite a long time (and a lot of bad dating experiences) to accept that alone didn’t have to mean lonely. That relationships were not the be all and end all of the universe. That if people judge me for not being in a relationship, it didn’t mean there was something wrong with me, it meant there was something wrong with them. In fact, there is something wrong with a world that measures your value only by your ability to be with another person.

There are all kinds of love apart from the intensely passionate and romantic pairings we see in the movies or read about in books. There’s love for your family, a love for your friends, and a love for yourself.

I think about, for example, the kind of relationship I have with my sister. Growing up, she was this pesky, annoying, bothersome person who taped over my Spice World cassette tape (I wanted to murder her for that, but my mum wouldn’t let me) and read my diaries. Now she’s one of my best friends, one of the few people who call me on my bullshit and never let me think too highly of myself, who will feed me when I’m hungry and make me tea when I’m sick, who will send me recommendations from the British Heart Council every time my hypochondriac brain acts up and I send her a text saying ‘I think I’m having a heart attack’.

You can’t tell me that that kind of love, that that kind of relationship, is somehow less because its not romantic.

As I get older, I’ve learned to make peace with who I am: I’m never going to be conventionally attractive but I love the way I look most of the time. I like to work. Other people will think that’s sad but they do them and I do me. I’d rather read and write than climb walls and fly off aeroplanes. I’m never going to be the most fun person at a party but I’m still fairly okay at making conversation with people. I’ve fallen in love (or thought I did) a few times. Only one or two have been real, to be honest. But throughout all that, my biggest relationship has always been with myself.

And just like any relationship, it has its ups and downs and days when I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror, but I find a way to forgive myself and to promise to do better, to be better, because I want to go to bed at night assured that I liked the person I was today. You can’t tell me that that is somehow less important just because its not really a relationship in the conventional sense.

I have rambled on as usual. Several paragraphs in and I haven’t even talked about the book yet…but everything I just said is essentially what Loveless by Alice Osman is about: the idea that there are all kinds of love, that sexuality is a broad spectrum of things from straight to asexual and aromantic, that no one gets to define what gives your life meaning apart from YOU. The book is messy, cringy, annoying, intense, funny, ridiculous heartwarming and ultimately, a real JOY to read.

I wanted to give up on it halfway through because I thought, meh, I wouldn’t be able to relate to this. I was just about to give it a DNF rating on Goodreads but I have a real aversion to not finishing a book, it just feels wrong to me. So I carried on, and I’m so so glad I did. Because despite my experiences and my sexuality being totally different from Georgia’s, the main protagonist, the whole point of the book is that love may mean all kind of things to all kinds of people, but each meaning is important, and if we could only see how universal it is because of those differences, the world would be a much better place.

The whole point of Loveless is that every story is a love story, well let me tell you one of my favourites:

I’d been living in London for 5 years and I had avoided riding the London Eye because I was saving it for when I finally had someone special to share the moment with. But in 2016, my father came for a visit. It had taken him nearly three years to process his passport, but finally, he was here, in a city that he’d only read about or saw in movies. The London Eye was something we came across on the telly back home on New Year’s Eve; we would gather around and watch the fireworks display as a family. And now there we were, riding one of the pods, just as the sun was starting to set.

Anyone who’s ever been on the London Eye will tell you that its excruciatingly slow, and at 15 minutes in you just want it to be over. But my Dad could not stop looking down on the Thames, and on all of London literally beneath our feet. And the whole time I had this big smile on my face when I looked around and realised, holy shit, my family was with me in my favourite city in the world. It was a magical moment. Better than any first kiss fantasies I’ve ever had.

Whoever you are, whatever your orientation, whether you’re alone or in a relationship right now, you deserve magical moments like that. You deserve joy.

Who knows what the future holds? Maybe next week I meet the love of my life and be married by the end of the year. Maybe I won’t.

But regardless, I wouldn’t consider myself loveless, because without even knowing or fully appreciating it, I am and have always been loved. And that is what makes this book so great. That is the message. Whether you’re gay, straight, bi, pan, ace, trans, queer, alone or in a relationship, we see you, and you are loved.

Book rating: 5 amazing stars

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 simple 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, LGBT, Movies, relationships, Reviews, romance, Self-Discovery

Book Review: Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

I’ve always believed that a book’s power lies in its ability to make it’s readers feel. As someone who’s been both an avid book reader and an extremely emotional person all my life, feeling for the stories I’ve read has never been a problem for me. Its probably why I spent my first 10 years as a reader reading romance novels because they always guaranteed a happy ending; they were probably so far off the mark as far as realism is concerned, but they were relatively painless and angst-free.

This book is not painless and angst-free.

I’ve never read any book where I spent the first three chapters with a hand over my heart because it was throbbing so badly from feeling too much and because I was relating too closely to a character. I was probably twenty pages into the book when I started questioning my sanity for voluntarily subjecting myself to the kind of reading experience that exposes far too many truths about my own self and my own experiences.

Elio and Oliver meet when the latter spends the summer at the former’s villa in Northern Italy (his parents usually adopt graduate students over the summer). Elio becomes infatuated with Oliver even before he consciously realises it. It first came on as a desire to please, then later this need to be around another person all the time, as if you might die if you’re not within their orbit or if you can’t keep them within your sight at all times. It then turns into an all-consuming infatuation, even something that can almost be mistaken for love.

I am not a good enough writer to even come close to giving this book a fitting summary. All I can really say is how it made me feel. And I’m sorry, I don’t mean to take away from whatever message this book is intended to convey about love being love no matter what; I also don’t meant to disregard how important works like these are to the LGBT community (of which I am an avid supporter). But I mean it as a compliment of the highest order when I say that while I was reading this book, I completely forgot that I was reading about two guys who are discovering that everything they knew about themselves may have been a lie. All I knew was that I was reading about and relating to two people experiencing love, and all the joys and aching sorrow that comes with it, for the first time.

I was watching a video on YouTube where the actor who plays Elio was giving an interview and he says that this story, both book and film, transcends gender issues and will mean different things to different viewers/readers. And therein lies the magic of it: It becomes one thing or another depending on who watches it. Yes, its very much a thousand steps forward in terms of gay cinema/literature, but for me its simply a love story. You don’t have to be straight, gay, bi or trans to relate to this story, you just have to be human.

Anyone who’s ever felt the torture of wondering whether your feelings are reciprocated or not, anyone who’s ever experienced the agony of waiting for just one kind word or compliment from the object of their affections, anyone who’s ever felt jealous when said object seems to have feelings for someone else, anyone who’s ever done something they didn’t need to do just because the other person asked for it, anyone who’s ever been simultaneously afraid and exhilarated by the feeling of having given someone the power to either make you happy or break your heart into pieces….they will all relate to and love this book.

There’s one more thing I want to say before I end this review:

Memories are a powerful thing; they sneak up on you when you least expect it, and they surprise you with how much you can still feel even after so many years have passed. This book reminded me of two things: the first time I ever gave my heart to someone, a long long time ago; and the first time I’ve ever felt the pain of saying goodbye to someone that I knew I could have loved if we only had more time. Both were experiences that, if you ask me, I’d really rather forget because they just hurt too much. I think I pushed those memories aside so that I could have the strength to carry on with the business of living. In the process, I also probably closed off a vital part of myself without knowing it. You believe a little less, and doubt a little more because your heart’s been bruised before. I think now that I may have been wrong about that and so many other things. As Elio’s father says towards the end of this book:

We rip so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not feel anything – what a waste!

I highly highly recommend this book. Five stars, applause and a 10 minute standing ovation. Click on image below to buy on Amazon!

Posted in Books, LGBT, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Remember your first crush?

Remember walking down the corridors of your high school and blushing whenever you catch a glimpse of that one cute guy who seems to shine just a little bit brighter than everyone else?

Remember the late night conversations with your friends trying to decipher and construe every conversation and gesture, looking for any hidden meaning or indication that he feels the same way?

Remember your first heartbreak, like when you find out he likes someone else and you comfort yourself with a tub of rocky road ice cream and listen to emo music (Jann Arden in my case)?

These are the kind of memories that this book evokes. It takes you back to a time in your life when every feeling and emotion is magnified (probably because of teenage hormones). It recalls the innocence of first love and I think it captures it perfectly, with just the right amount of self-deprecating humour, sweetness and angst. 

But you know what the most beautiful thing about this book is?

Its about two teenage boys falling in love for the first time. I am really happy to be living in a time where books like this can be published and widely read, not just by the lgbt community but by mainstream readers as well. I think that ten years ago, a kid growing up confused about his sexuality would have felt alone and depressed whereas I fervently hope that now, with all the support and books like Simon, they would know that there are other people going through the same thing and that it DOES get better.

I love Simon’s internal monologue, I really like getting into his head and seeing his take on things. I love that he is a huge fan of Harry Potter and I love that he does theatre. I love the fact that he thinks “coming out” shouldn’t be exclusive to gay people and that straight people should come out as straight too. I love that he thinks straight shouldn’t be the default setting and I love that he was able to bring a sense of humour to his own eventual coming out. 

I know that coming out is a really serious issue for teens, and I’ve read several books where this hasn’t turned out well. But, spoiler alert, its great to read a book for once where family and friends really rally around the character in order to give him support. It gives you hope that that kind of tolerance will eventually be the norm. Love is love people, get with the program.

There’s a mystery to be solved here and if you guys are anything like me, you’ll be tempted to just read through the end to find out who “Blue” is but trust me, you don’t want to spoil the experience. I honestly guessed it early on but I kept getting thrown by the red herrings. However, just like when I’m reading crime and mystery, I know that its rarely the obvious suspect whodunit because where’s the fun in that? And also if you’re really observant, Blue gives himself away in one of his emails to Simon. 

Anyway, if it was possible to die from sweetness overload, I would have keeled over last night. I finished the book and just went “awwwww“. It kinda makes me miss high school, although I wouldn’t go so far as to wish to go through adolescence again. If you’re looking for a nice and easy read, add this to your to-read list! I guarantee you won’t regret it.