Beat the January blues.

Without a doubt January is a pretty depressing month. The glitter and childlike excitement of Christmas has been and gone leaving behind the prospect of the return to work, an empty bank balance and a tighter, mince pie stuffed waistband.
1997_1134214iBut don’t forget this can be the start of something new and positive too. New promises of a healthier lifestyle and the prospect of starting something new, be it a new hobby or learning a new skill or even reading something completely different. And in this January, where it is still cold and the nights are still so dark what more of a perfect time is there to snuggle up of an evening with a good book. My New Year’s resolution to myself is to make it my mission to read at least one book a month. Not too difficult you might think, but it is very easy in our modern day hectic schedules to let this simple pleasure slip. But no more i cry, and as record of this i will be posting a book review each month to not only prove to myself and to others that I am sticking to my resolution but also hopefully to offer inspiration to others and offer some good reading recommendations. So sit back, take a sip of hot chocolate and curl up with a good book.

Where to Go in London to Beat Writer’s Block

The Chocolate Festival in Southbank CentreAs I trekked back from a friend’s party, which was just half a mile from where my place was, I started exploring England and began knowing the best ways to beat my writer’s block and to extend my capacity as a writer. There are 3 places that I would suggest for writers to visit:

Chocolates and Southbank Centre

Nobody can actually explain what causes a writer’s block but, everybody’s response is the same – blocked. Fortunately, many experts have found out that a substance called theobromine can make someone happy and relaxed (which I think is the best condition a writer should always feel), and this substance is found in chocolates. Yes, yummy and sweet chocolates which were actually plenty in Southbank Centre in their chocolate festival! I could not resist so I took the chance and guess what? I was blown away by the many varieties of chocolates (I think I could even write a book from those sweeties).

Fun-filled Concerts at Cheshire

Music is the language of the soul as everyone would say but for a passionate writer like me, I would say it frees my mind from the crooked noise of my surroundings. I always love music, especially the classics and the Christmas carols. Given the chance to listen to them all, I went to Tatton Park, Cheshire. There I gave my soul a treat with King Edward Musical Society and their accompaniment. It refreshed my mind and inspired me to write again (yes, should a writer intend to finish a book he or she must be inspired).

Explore and Stretch Out at Cambridgeshire

Part of being a writer is to take readers to memorable places without actually going there. It’s a writer’s intricacy to travel with the readers. Having thought of this, I decided to explore the Cambridgeshire where Straw Bear Festival is usually held. Although I was not able to witness the actual festival because it was not January when I went there, I saw the straw costumes that people would wear during the festival. I discovered new culture and found new friends. By interacting with them I grasped an idea for my next story. Lucky me!

It is not debatable to say that UK has many of the best places to travel on earth. Additionally, it has the best events venue that will help you beat that writer’s block and let new ideas coming through. This is why I took the chance to see unique events venue in the UK with my own eyes. You should too!

Book Review on The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars Book CoverIn a book review of The Fault in Our Stars by molliebookworm in The Guardian last Sunday, she said,

“If you enjoy young adult books, full of witty humour and heartbreaking events, this book is perfect for you. Expect to laugh, cry and smile throughout this masterpiece by the amazing John Green. I highly recommend this book.”

Admittedly, I am not one of those who enjoy YA novel books. I have heard that the book was actually good. However, at first, it did not interest me. I was apprehensive that the book would turn out to be all style and would lack substance. I hate to read books with plots that would just bounce along till they reach necessary tear-jerking endings. This was not the case on one of John Green’s masterpieces. I was definitely mistaken. Be warned that although the book is intricately written, it is also emotionally devastating in my own standpoint.

Two affable characters meet at a cancer support group meeting: Hazel Lancaster who has terminal thyroid cancer (narrator) and Augustus Waters who is a cancer survivor. The two become close even with Hazel’s desire to escape from becoming the reason to inadvertently cause pain over her passing. She considers herself a grenade waiting to explode. They skim between profound conversations on life’s meaning. These characters do not just show us every painful instance of living a life with cancer but we are also shown their battle not just to continue living but also to stop cancer from overshadowing their heart, mind and character. Their quest for Peter Van Houten, author of An Imperial Affliction is another reason to read further on the book.

The young adult novel is not just an entertaining novel but it is also a thought-provoking book that has the power to move readers. It shows that your life will never augment if you feel insignificant about yourself because of terminal disease. It focuses on becoming mature, learning to take accountability for your life and defining yourself by who you are and not what disease you may have.

Five Reasons Why Writers Should Take a Break

Writer's TipsIn my quest to finally finish the story I was writing on, I decided to go to the countryside so I could find solitude that could be the thing that’s lacking for me to finish my draft. Without hesitation and without thorough planning, I hastily chose to go to North Devon. Prior to leaving home, I was already able to book a reservation for a single-storey thatched holiday cottage in a small village called Chulmleigh. I’d have to say that the tranquil countryside setting gave me a wonderful opportunity to have a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of the city life.

Then it dawned to me that I should feature this topic so that budding writers like me will know the importance of R&R to fuel their writing and get their creative juice continuously flowing. So, here are five of the many reasons why writers, beginning or expert, should take a break in.

  1. A change of scenery can bring about interesting story ideas. You’d be surprise on the numerous ideas that will just keep on popping into your head.
  2. By taking a step back, you are able to create a more enhanced work flow. It allows you to be more productive since you’ll be able to assess and make amends on your work flow.
  3. When a writer is well-rested, creative juice incessantly flows and the eagerness to work in a project is prevails.
  4. A vacation helps you in distinguishing and reducing bad habits. It allows you to contemplate on reasons that made you procrastinate (e.g. checking Facebook and email too much).
  5. Lastly, taking a step back opens your eyes and ponder on the goals that you want to work on and achieve on a bigger picture.

Truly, my trip to the rural waterside setting was the perfect quiet retreat. I was able to finish my draft. In addition, I got the chance to explore the dramatic North Devon area. I was able to wander around. I got the chance to stroll on the sandy beaches and do bird watching along the quiet riverbank. Not to mention, I left the place in awe. The scenery was breathtakingly perfect. I’d have to say I’m glad I took this vacation.

Book Review on The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret Book CoverI remember vividly how I got hold of this book. My sister, Claudette, asked me if the bookstore where I’m working already had a copy of The Husband’s Secret. I did not bother reading it at first thinking it’s more on the women’s field which I rarely (no offense intended) find time reading. I finally gave in and read it after my sister convinced me. Liane Moriarty has done a great job in masterfully crafting this novel. No wonder it’s one of the bestselling books in Amazon UK. It emphasises the intricacies in a relationship: trust, secrets, love and forgiveness. I’d say it’s definitely thought-provoking and can be emotional at some levels.

What would you do if you find a letter that should only be opened in the event of your husband’s death? In this event, Cecilia finds the letter and is very keen to open it even if her husband, John-Paul, is still very much alive. However, she does not want to betray her husband’s trust or wishes and decides that the letter stays unopened as long as John-Paul is still alive. But after mentioning the letter to him, John-Paul begins to act as if he’s hiding something making Cecilia even more inquisitive. He made plans to destroy the letter but Cecilia gets to the letter first.

‘My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died…’

The letter unfolds John-Paul’s darkest secret. What Cecilia found will forever change her life and the people around her. The book is mischievously humorous even with its dark subject matter. Moriarty perfectly shows the overwhelming consequences of keeping secrets from others and even from ourselves. I enjoyed the shrill twist and turns brought about by reading the book. It’s not the kind of story as I thought it would be. It will leave you thinking about the story even after you have done reading it. Although I must say that I already deciphered the truth behind the title at the beginning. Yet, this book is still intriguing until the end part due to the inescapable consequences of keeping secrets (big or small) that has been given emphasis in the story. The lives of John-Paul, Cecilia and the others are surely never going back the way they were.

My Writing Realisation as a Beginning Writer

Writer's PenmanshipAs a book enthusiast, a traveller and a ‘writer’, I have a lot of diversity in my life. Sometimes I’m on the road traveling and most of the times I’m in the bookshop (working). Many people have been asking me about my life, typically presuming that it’s boring and uninteresting. I do not see my life this way. As I always point out, I find solitude when I’m surrounded with books. My fascination with books also helped me discover my interest in writing. I do hope one of these days I can publish a book of my own. Traveling, on the other hand, also helped me extend my capacity as a writer and beat the writer’s block I often experience when I’m strained.

One time, I accompanied my sister Claudette to help her find a family car that offers a good personal car leasing deal. We could have saved time if she researched the company and the car online in advance before we actually went to the place. However, she’s not the tech savvy type so I had to endure the long hours of waiting for her to make up her mind. I hope she doesn’t read this. To cut the story short, while waiting for her, I was able to contemplate on what it really takes to become a good writer.

I realised that when you write a book, it is not directly done in one sitting. It doesn’t work that way. Writing is more than just a flash of inspiration and letting the creative juice flow. It requires good research practises. It can actually take months to come up with an outline or an idea that you repeatedly refine and articulate in your head. There’s definitely a process to it. One step that works for me is to integrate the idea I have in a sentence, in a paragraph, and then in a page. By doing this, it allows me to get more ideas on what I should be writing about and it serves as my guide along the way.

I am also able to visualise to whom I am writing for. It’s never about writing merely for your own self. Writing a book involves planning too. You need to plan for it that it will really take longer for the book to finish than expected. I know mine is still far from being finished but I like how things are going. Each writer has a different set of rules and tricks for him to finish a good book. I don’t expect all the things I shared above will work for you too but I do know that wanting to write is not nearly enough to complete your story. For a writer, writing does not come that easily.

Book Review on Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl Book CoverAs expected, I got interested on Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”. Not only because I have read rave reviews in Amazon about the book like William Merrill’s statement,

“This is it — one of those rare novels that’s unique and totally engrossing, cleverly plotted so that each new development has me astounded and eager to find out what happens next.”

But also I am a big fan of crime/mystery novels. I have always been fascinated with mystery novel books which I find hard to resist once I start reading them. The book did not disappoint me. It is an incredibly compelling story that you would never know what will happen next. In short, it is full of twists and surprises and at the end you will be contemplating on the unconventional truth about love and marriage.

Here’s a quick run-through on the story without giving spoilers. The story revolves around Nick and his wife Amy who had been married for five years. In the first half of the novel, it is essentially about interventions on a relationship linked with a mystery. It depicts a weakening marriage, an ill-fated husband who lost his job and a man who feels that his self-sufficiently rich wife doubts him. Then, Amy mysteriously disappears. The first half reveals two perspectives. By this time, you would be perplexed on who to believe or what really happened. You’d be asking who really the real provocative agent is. The second part is most comparable to a psychological crime thriller which I would not go into detail.

I would have to say that the end part, in my opinion, is a little bit of a disappointment. My advice is not to expect too much about the story and just have fun reading its ‘unpredictable’ plot. Books like this novel are a fairly good read. I’d say it is a perfect holiday book. I can just imagine myself spending my time in the beaches of Cornwall. I’d bring the book with me on the beach and just spend my time basking in the sun while reading it. But be warned it’s not the type of book that is easy to put down and picked up later. You’ll get hooked and once you start reading you’d realise you could not put it down.

Book Review on The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling Book CoverI was looking through the newly released books when I came across this novel. I got curious about it and thought it would be worth reading. Boy, I am so glad I took my chances to read it! Cuckoo’s Calling is such an awesome story packed with mystery. Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym) has done a superb job in writing a brilliant crime debut novel. Who would have thought it was Rowling all along? The quality of writing, the superb sense of place and the profundity of the characters are what set the novel apart from the overpopulated genre of P.I. fiction.

A private investigator, Cormoran Strike, is hired by the brother of a distressed high profile model who was found dead after allegedly falling from the balcony of her Mayfair apartment. Police treat the case as suicide as the entirety points to it. However, as I dig deeper into the novel, I can vividly see that everything is not what it seems to be. Cormoran Strike’s character is perfect for the plot. He’s a fiercely independent ex-military who is going through a bad breakup with his fiancé. With Strike, venturing into the detective business, he finds himself in actual financial trouble. You can feel that the other characters seem like they are real and the exchanging of conversations is convincing. Overall, the depth of mystery in the story is agreeably complex with a wonderful conclusion that I am sure that other readers did not see coming too.

The story brought to life by Galbraith’s true-to-life descriptions makes me feel as if I’m there helping Strike and Robin solve the mystery. I’d say this is somewhat an archaic type of crime fiction novel stressing on cross-examining witnesses and collecting clues instead of directly going into action. It extremely aided me in the development of characters. I’m certainly hoping that Galbraith will add more books in the series. They ought to be worth reading if they are released.

The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay and Katniss Everdeen

Mockingjay Pin BadgeFive years ago, my niece gave me a personalised fingerprint charm keyring with my name etched to it. It melted my heart away and now I could not believe that she’s growing up fast. Every time I look at the keyring, it reminds me of her sweet, angelic smile. This reminded me of the Hunger Games Mockingjay pin badge that Katniss wears during the game to represent District 12. In the Hunger Games, every tribute is permitted to bring one item that reminds them of their family and friends in their respective District. The small pin with the image of the Mockingjay in flight is similar to the personalised fingerprint jewellery that I have. It has so much symbolism in it.

Before Katniss left for the Capitol to join the Hunger Games, the mayor’s daughter, Madge, gave the pin to her. Eventually, Katniss fails to recall the pin while she’s training but her stylist, Cinna, never forgets to put the Mockingjay pin badge on her suit deliberately before she goes to the arena. In book one, he tells Katniss that the pin hardly cleared the review board because they think Katniss might use it as a weapon. Ultimately, we know that there is more to it than meets the eye. It is indeed an extremely influential and significant weapon in a special way.

The Mockingjays have many associations in the story. First, the hybrid birds remind Katniss of her father who was fond of Mockingjays, whistling and singing with them. Second, Katniss’s ally and friend, Rue, uses one of her bird signals to inform Katniss that she is alive and fine. But, the same signal has put Katniss into danger with Rue being held hostage by another tribute from District 1. Rue dies before Katniss gets to save her. Katniss sings a memorial song for Rue and the Mockingjays are heard repeating the tune of Katniss’s song, spreading it throughout the forest.

Finally, the Mockingjay pin signifies a living being with a spirit of its own. The hybrid bird symbolise resistance and rebellion. They are the clear example of creatures that have escaped from the tyranny of the Capitol. They are living proof that the Capitol is incapable of imposing their influence to all beings. As the novel progresses, we see Katniss gradually showing the qualities of a Mockingjay.

Book Review on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby Book CoverThe Great Gatsby is an intricately crafted novel that depicts the happenings in America’s Jazz Age. I consider this novel as one of the classic stories I’ve read. With its decades of existence, I still find it captivating to re-read the book and relive F. Scott Fitzgerald’s telling on the conception of love, affluence and societal class. You’d find that the way Fitzgerald had written the book would leave you wanting to dig deeper into the story. In short, every single page is bursting with suspense. The book reveals evocative qualities of pertinent issues in the 1920’s. With its descriptive texts, the characters and settings are brought to life as if you were witnessing the event.

The book is articulately narrated by Nick Carraway’s point of view, Jay Gatsby’s modest neighbour in Long Island that ultimately became his most trusted friend. However, as the story progresses, the viewpoint of the other characters are also featured. Gatsby’s ostentatious obsession for Daisy Fay Buchanan portrays a love story with both passive insistence and languid pall. The setting depicts the conflicting nature of the American dream in the 1920’s which gives sobriety to the classic novel. Five years after Jay and Daisy ended their romance; the two had come to different points in their lives. Daisy married Tom Buchanan for the one and only reason: to continuously live a life in luxury. Gatsby, on the other hand, has accrued wealth through his dubious ways. Carraway is responsible for bringing the lovers back together. Gatsby’s romance with Daisy is once again rekindled. Tom, on the other hand, continues carelessly with an auto mechanic’s greedy wife. Nick gets trapped in the high society and has a relationship with a young golf pro, Jordan Baker.

Fitzgerald’s eloquent description on how people lived and acted at a time where prosperity and wealth can blind anyone is exquisite. I was definitely enthralled by how he described Gatsby’s massive wealth especially the parts when he throws parties every Saturday. I would have to say that my first reading of the book led me to confusion due to its text but it added mystery for me to fully delve into the story.