He Said, She Said – A Battle of Perspectives

Eclipse-chasing young couple Kit and Laura are the ideal young couple in love, about to watch the awaited eclipse in Cornwall in 1999, with a future of excitement and fresh opportunities to look forward to after university. But while they are about to view the eclipse, Laura stumbles across a a brutal attack, which she later becomes confused about – was it rape, or did she get it all wrong? As events unfold, we see how this affects the lives of all the people involved, and how things aren’t always what they seem.

Fast-forward to 2015, where the couple have changed their name, are hiding in a non-descript house in the back-ends of London, and all traces of their identity and existence have been scrubbed clean. What has happened to make Laura and Kit go into hiding? What has made the now-pregnant and married Laura so afraid for her husband, who is still held by his love for eclipse?

The crux of this novel, which made it so interesting to read, the layering of relationships and the psychological aspects of the story, which is what really makes it a thriller. The motif of eclipses, which appears throughout the book is a clever backdrop which works surprisingly well – mirroring the shadowing of truth, reality and the reliability of a character’s narrative. What we are left with is a very tense, fascinating story which keeps us guessing while we try to figure out what has happened.

Split between the Then and Now type narrative (which isn’t something I’m always a fan of, but it works here) the story reveals secrets in each time period – as we discover what happened in 1999, we also discover another layer to the truth in 2015 which gives a whole new depth to the story. The thing which makes this story beautiful to read is the haunting descriptions and way the story drags you into an emotional rollercoaster, so that the twists in the story really are unpredictable.

I liked this book enough that I’m looking to pick up more books by this author, although there are, admittedly parts which made me question the credibility of certain things (such as the seemingly-irrational fear the couple have which make them go into hiding). However a lot of the ambiguity in this novel (such as who is the ‘He’ and ‘She’ which is in the title? What are all the characters hiding from each other?) which works in its favour, and makes this something engaging enough to get lost in.

He Said She Said is available to buy on Amazon and was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Floral Vibes at Bourne & Hollingsworth

I recently met up with a very old friend for brunch, after a very long time (ten years!) and celebrated at the beautiful restaurant Bourne & Hollingsworth. They don’t have a halal menu unfortunately, but there’s plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, and I really enjoyed my order at this restaurant.

One of the things I loved about this B&H was the floral vibe it had going on – it really reminded me of Rudyard Kiplings stories which I used to read when I was younger, which gave a really lovely atmosphere. I also loved the fact that the company’s business cards are basically a sketch of the restaurant, such a cute idea!

There’s also outdoor seating too, it was a little chilly for us so we opted for the indoors, but it’s opposite a park and feels very peaceful and quiet to sit outside too.

So let’s get to the food, I ordered a poached eggs hollandaise, while my friend ordered the savoury courgette pancake. I LOVED my meal, it was light, fluffy and the sauce was amazing, while my friend’s pancakes were pretty tasty and full of flavour.

And of course, we couldn’t leave without dessert – we both opted for chocolatey brownies in hot sauce, which finished off the meal nicely.

The restaurant gets pretty busy (which we found when we had to book to reserve a table!) but the atmosphere is quite chilled out, and I love that there’s small details everywhere in the decor to create the look of the restaurant – a piano for the front desk, a vintage bathtub in the bathrooms, tiles walls in the private dining area – there’s something appealing for your eyes most places you look.

I really enjoyed having brunch at this restaurant, and would love to come back again. I can imagine that it’s perfect for a light meal, and somewhere to sit and feel like you’ve been transported to another era.

EVALUATION:
HALAL : NO
VEGETARIAN & VEGAN OPTIONS AVAILABLE: YES
PRICE : £7 UPWARDS FOR BRUNCH, £15-18 FOR LUNCH
RATING OUT OF 10: 7
LOCATION: 42 Northampton Rd, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0HU

Bergen & Street Art

Happy Monday-ing (and thank goodness it’s over!) To start the week I thought I’d post some street art – always puts a smile on my face, and makes me keep an eye out for more in the rest of the week!

One of the things I always keep an eye out for (aside from bookshops and libraries!) when I’m in another country is street art, because it’s such a beautiful universal thing which you don’t need to know the language for. Below is some street art which my husband and I found while we were in Bergen, Norway last year, which caught my eye because of some of the messages in the pictures – I think my favourite is the one with a panda and it’s mobile phone though!

Red Lipstick

They said I was too young to wear red lipstick, and to stick to my dolls and lipglosses, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said red lipstick was for married women, and young girls should stay in soft pinks, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said married women didn’t have time for makeup and should focus on their homes, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said red lipstick was for a bride and I should not try to outstage her, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said that red lipsticks were for young women, and I should wear more mature colours, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said that red lipstick would look better on my daughter, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said that I was too old for lipstick, and I should act my age.
I laughed at them and wore my lipsticks, pillar-box reds, rich scarlets, deep crimsons, blazing rubies, vibrant burgundies.

I bring life to my face with creamy sticks of red, embracing my feminine wiles, my brazen girlhood, and I will not be ashamed.

– Harlequin, 2017.

I wrote this poem with much deliberation, after reading a comment on my social media that someone made, which I thought was interesting. – the girl stated she had been told not to wear brightly coloured lipsticks because only married women should wear this. It brought to mind a few memories I have of being a teenager, and being told not to wear red lipstick by an Aunt who was a family friend, because red lipstick is for married women and not single young girls. I thought it was interesting that a specific colour had been relegated to relationship status, as if it would almost be vulgar to wear a bright colour, and even bring attention to myself. I’m familiar with this concept, the idea that you should not bring attention to yourself, not wear something inappropriate, as well as the many connotations which come with things like red lipstick.

Red lipstick, apparently, means that you are an attention-seeker. Loud. Inappropriate. Not religious. Not a ‘nice girl’. I like to think that these attitudes have changed a little over time – I’ve seen many girls see red lipstick as a staple in their makeup bag, and less something which is saved for their wedding day.

Nevertheless, I’ll admit, it did take me a few years to wear red lipstick – I think I was in my early twenties when I braved it, and then wondered why it had taken me so long. Even my husband, who is wonderfully open-minded and has never told me what to wear or what not wear, told me that if I lived in Pakistan I would probably have thought twice about wearing it. Coming from a fairly traditional, culturally-infused upbringing, my husband’s interaction with red lipsticks was limited to being something associated with married women, worn by women for their husbands, and rarely worn outside the house. Pink lips are so much more acceptable, softer, feminine and less sexual.

My own point of view is that while  I understand the intended view behind it – a woman’s image and her beauty is meant to be protected, and drawing attention to it can bring issues – it’s unfair to simplify things as if a women’s ‘honour’ and image is all that she is, and that she is ruled by them. I guess a lot of this stems from the whole South Asian culture of a woman’s image, the idea of honour, and how this can get mixed up with traditional values which now feel outdated to us.

I recently read a story told by a blogger that I admire, who told a story about when she visited Pakistan – she was told off by her mother for smiling at a man in a supermarket, and told that she should at strange men. She may consider it to be  friendly, but they may construe it to mean something else.
I could certainly understand her resentment – and what I dislike is that the onus seems to be on the women to limit herself, and hide herself. Whatever happened to the male gaze? Why not break apart the idea that the responsibility lies with the women and how she must take care in how she looks, who she looks at, and how her actions are responsible for her situation?

So I guess when it comes to red lipsticks, I resent the fact that there is a lingering mentality that to wear red lipstick is to be brazen, overly-confident and ‘modern’ – and it’s even worse to me especially, that a lot of the comments I have received, and other girls get, are from older women in our society. I believe there is so much more to women that shouldn’t be reduced to how much make-up they wear, that  being confident isn’t a negative thing, and that perhaps things like red lipstick shouldn’t be treated like a dirty thing.

Below, a picture of all the red lipstick I own.

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One of Us Is Lying – A re-take on The Breakfast Club

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.
– The Breakfast Club (1985)

One of us is lying is truly a tribute to The Breakfast Club, except with dashes of contemporary thriller dramas (it’s being marketed as The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, and it’s not wrong there). Just like the characters in The Breakfast Club, five characters who fit a high-school stereotype each are thrown together in a detention class, albeit with a darker twist to this version.
Just look at the blurb – it says it all really:

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High s notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident.

And just like the film itself, each character is not who they seem – the beautiful bimbo is actually n sympathetic, intelligent teenager, the jock doesn’t really have it all, and so it continues. In the middle of it all is the murder mystery which the characters are all thrown into – with narration from each character’s perspectives, there’s plenty of subtle clues, but it’s not easy at all to guess the culprit in this whodunnit.

I’ll admit, the premise had me interested from the start, but what really kept me reading was how well-developed the characters are – there’s lots of drama, hidden secrets and emotional topics which are dealt with wonderfully with the author. I felt like this was a modern-day Breakfast Club, but with added facets of LGBT, drugs and peer pressure which is very relevant in today’s high-schools and society. I also liked how smart this story is – as a premise it sounds a little clichéd, but it works because the characters are pretty fleshed-out, their relationships with each other feel genuine, and there’s the added effect that  as we get to know each character, there’s always a doubt about them. While we analyse them, get to know and like them, we are always still wondering who the murderer in this story is.

I can’t say that the ending of this novel came with a total bang (as an avid reader of murder mysteries, I did guess the culprit!) but it’s a great story, especially for a debut novel. What stays with me in this story surprisingly wasn’t the murder plot, but the incredibly sweet image of the characters supporting each other as they grow up in this story.

One of us is Lying will be released on 1st June 2017 and was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Iris by Rebecca Louise Law

I recently saw this beautiful art piece a few days ago – The Iris by artist by Rebecca Louise Law, and thought it was a really pretty, dreamy take on the idea of being among flowers. I’m a big fan of art installations which involve real flowers, and thought this was pretty amazing – one thousand fresh flowers hanging from copper wires in a formation so that you can walk through them and enter a dreamy flower land.

The purpose of the exhibition is to observe the irises as they dry and become preserved – and bringing to mind the idea of past, present and future as the flowers change over a short time. When I visited the exhibition (which was just a few days ago), the flowers were still colourful and the vines were a little green, but I could already see that they were getting dried and the texture and look of them were different. I would have loved to seen the flowers when they were first hung up in February to see more of the colours and smells, especially as it would have looked more fresh and greener, but they are still very beautiful.

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I really liked how the flowers were set up and hanging so that there was a lovely dreamy, whimsical feel to them. It was actually quite difficult for me to take pictures of them because it’s hard to depict the way they are hung and the look of them – for some reason it doesn’t look like there’s many flowers, but I found that it feels like there’s a lot when I was walking through the vines, and there’s a feeling of being almost submerged in nature.

The exhibition is still up, and will be open until 7th May, so if’ you’re around the area, its worth popping in to have a look. There’s lots of space to walk around, and even cushions to sit on or even lie down on and take in the feel of the art installation. I hope I see more flowery art this summer, especially now that spring has arrived in full force, and will certainly post more if I do.

The Capitalisation of Modest Fashion

This is something which has been playing on my mind for a little while – as modest fashion gains more and more exposure, there has been a big impact on the industry. I love that there are more and more Muslimah fashionistas and designers being represented out there, that retailers and brands are starting to take notice of modest fashion and the hijab (whether it’s stocking the clothes or featuring hijab models). Just recently an Indonesian Muslim designer garnered applause for having an all-hijab collection on the runway, and catwalk model Halima Aden also recently made news for wearing her hijab. I recently attended London’s first London Modest Fashion week (with another one happening this Bank Holiday weekend) and I’m pretty sure this is just the start. Vogue Arabia featured Gigi Hadid in a head-scarf, Uniqlo has made news for collaborating with a British-Japanese Muslim designer, and several mainstream companies have began to stock hijab-friendly pieces. In the midst of negativity about hijab, the French niqab-ban, the recent legislation about employers being able to ask employers to remove religious symbols, these are much-needed positivities in the modesty movement.

Modest fashion has been making waves for a while now – from Nigella donning that burqini to bloggers such as Dina Tokio and Nabiilabee who have now grown into becoming pioneers for the fashion industry, influencing the market, including designing their own ranges and even having pieces in mainstream stores – over the last decade it has really exploded and changed from the way it used to be (and I remember when we all used to wear a stretchy hijab when going to Quran lessons as kids which we used to just pull over our heads like little frumps!)

It all sounds so amazing, right? I love that there’s been so much growth in this industry, I do. But there’s also a lot of things which make me concerned about the rise of this multi-billion-dollar market. As a fashion blogger, and a young Muslimah who loves her fashion, and even as just an ordinary consumer, regardless of whether I blog about modest fashion or not, I certainly understand the struggle or getting decent modest clothes. My sisters and I all have memories of looking for suitable clothes as teenagers (and even now, sometimes) – outfits which cover our arms and chest, and look flattering without being fitted, modest without being frumpy, and stylish as well. Sounds like a tall order, and in our earlier years, it felt like it was. So it’s amazing to see the strides that have been taken in the fashion industry, that it’s easier to find pretty, girly maxi dresses which aren’t backless, long tops in pretty colours, or even scarves that are made from a decent material. It certainly makes sense that the reason for this growth is that there are so many others out there who has also had this need, whether it’s Muslim consumers, modest fashion bloggers, or just anyone looking for something which covers up a little more, and that this gap in the market is being filled. It also makes sense that there is a rise of modest fashion designers, online outlets which sell couture designs, and hundreds upon hundreds of companies which sell hijabs, abayas, modest dresses and so on.

So what’s my gripe? My issue is that it feels like a lot of companies are starting to recognise the amount of money being made from modest fashion, and taking their chance to capitalise on it. Now I understand that a business is a business – it needs to make profits and these companies are well within their rights to do so. However I feel that the result of a lot of these companies pushing the prices up means that the market gets inflated – suddenly it feels like a lot of the things which we want and need are expensive – ironic right? The outfits we want are there, but we can’t always afford them.

I’ve noticed, over the years, that some of the bigger designer companies have started to jump on the bandwagon too – D&G released an abaya and hijab collection last summer, and Tommy Hilfiger, Mango and DKNY among a few brands have all released capsule wardrobes for Ramadan in the Middle East in the past. The question in these cases are not why modest fashion is reaching these brands – these changes definitely show that customers fashion choices are being reflected – but more why these are aimed at an Arabian market which already have access to similar things like this, and also the fact that the price tags are only aimed at the richer classes who can afford these. Doesn’t it negate the whole gesture, surely, if the ordinary girls who want to wear this stuff can’t afford it, and don’t have access to the ‘designer’ things?

I’ve seen lots of modest fashion bloggers who collaborate with and promote modest clothing companies to help them become more popular. I’m not in disagreement with this, particularly when it helps a smaller brand, or a business whose ethics I genuinely agree with. I recently met a retailer for a modest clothes company whose outfits were very reasonably priced – the owner and designer of the collection explained to me he knew he could charge more, and chose not to. He said he would rather help more women be modest, do his good work in the name of religion, and sleep well at night – his children were in good university, his wife and himself were well-educated and had enough money, and they were happy with what they have. I was really pleased to hear something like this – as someone who has struggled with money issues in the past (as has everyone), I know it’s easy to get greedy and chase after more money. I loved that this company recognised that it would rather promote modesty in a workable way and still operate a business.

However I have also come across a lot of modest clothing brand who don’t take this stance – whether they like to cultivate an ‘elitist’ stance so that only certain people can wear their brands, whether they charge more because of their unique, customised pieces or even whether they charge these prices because they are ‘normal’. It’s made me pretty upset in the past when brands have cherry-picked who they want to work with – understandably they will pick those who will promote their brand, but it also makes fashion bloggers compete with each other, and creates a circle with excludes a lot of customers who want access to these outfits, and have to pay out of the nose to get them. One of my biggest concerns when I attended the London Modest Fashion week event was that there were plenty of brands and exhibitions to shop from, but I thought some of the things available were too pricey – I had a discussion with a friend who also went to the event a day later who said she would prefer to buy things from a normal high street store because the value for money was better.

So how can we address this issue? Over the years, as fashion has evolved, my attitudes has too. In the past I use to splurge on makeup and clothes (and had the money too!) so could afford to spend more to get what I wanted. These days, it’s not so much the money but the principle of getting quality for my money which has made me more picky. Can’t find a reasonably priced maxi dress? Buy some loose fabric and get it tailored (although we all know the struggle of finding a decent tailor who won’t charge the earth and also gives us our outfits on time!). Support a smaller brand who will appreciate feedback and pay attention to the products. Look at fair-trade companies who work ethically – it’s one thing supporting a Muslim company, but what about one who works in a green, ethical way?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this – have you noticed the difference in the rise of modest fashion too? For those of you who wear modest clothes, what have you opted to do?

Pink Blossoms and Floral Dresses

My sister and I made the most of the 25° scorching sun yesterday and took a trip to the local park (it was packed, so clearly we weren’t the only one with this idea), and both of us being photography enthusiasts, took the opportunity to take pictures of the beautiful scenes. I managed to get a few pretty photos (some of them were a bit bright from the sun!) and also took a good walk around to soak up the scenery.

It was a pretty lovely afternoon out, the park we went to is a pretty huge one with plenty of gardens with flowers, a lake with boats, a play ground area, and also leads to the local mansion if you walk far enough!

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We also found some small hidden areas sectioned around the lake which looked beautiful, especially when we were walking through them which had a very private, ethereal feel to them.

One of the things I love seeing in spring are blossoms, it feels like they all fall off too quickly! I’ve been seeing lots of these this spring, thankfully, and love how pretty they look.

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We also saw lots of people hiring boats to paddle on the lake, which looked pretty fun, and made for a nice adventure for a lot of the families – I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this over summer, especially if the weather stays this nice!

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All in all, it was a really lovely day out to the park, finished off with yummy cold slushies. I even managed to wear my pretty floral dressed which I had tailored for summer – perfect for matching with blossom trees!

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Unexpected Elephants and Moustache’d Inspectors

On the day that he was due to retire, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant.

And thus starts a novel which takes Inspector Chopra on a journey which no one could have expected at all. Full of murder, conspiracy, domestic dramas in the complex they live in and a cute little elephant, this novel has it all. This novel was recommended to me by a friend who thought I would like it, and I’m glad she did – it reminded me of a lot of things in different way which made me enjoy the story all the more. There’s scenes of the manly hero, Inspector Chopra chasing the ‘baddies’ through meandering roads and hiding in warehouses a la Bollywood style (albeit the 60s and 70s action movies kind). There’s conspiracies, corruption and secrets, with the weak poor classes against the corrupt rich. And at the heart of it all is the focus of traditional values and the importance of honesty.

The story also reminds me a little of another detective series, Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which has the similarities of infusion of local culture, wonderfully drawn characters and quirky, gentle humour. The story follows the retirement of Inspector Chopra in the richly-described Mumbai, following two mysterious cases; firstly the inheritance of a baby elephant left to him by a loved uncle for reasons unknown, and secondly the drowning of a young man whose death is suspicious, yet keeps being brushed under the carpet. With this, Inspector Chopra’s retirement suddenly feels too peaceful and boring, and the hero is led to investigate on his own, leading him to more serious issues like the corruption of the upper-classes, the activism of lower classes for more rights, into the dark Underworld and slums.

The story is quirky and whimsical enough that there are a few sweet, silly lines which keep the story entertaining, although there are also more serious issues which are given their space, which balance the story well. This isn’t a serious, thriller-type crime novel, but it is a story which draws you into the busy, colourful world of Mumbai and see it through the eyes of a native. This is something which feels a little more old-fashioned, quietly showing us the story yet charming, the characters are very likeable, such as the sub-plot of the Inspector’s marriage with his feisty wife Poppy (and her mother!), and the impact of the baby elephant on all of their lives.

I really enjoyed this novel, if only because I loved the story is brought together, the two mysteries running alongside each other, with the colourful voice of Mumbai, street-life and the gentle humour which gives this story the whimsical touch. There are some who have said that this story isn’t credible, or even very original, but I think that it’s hard to depict the characters and city-life of India the way this story has, and it has been quite well done. I’m already looking forward to the next in the series on my book reader, and I’ll wait to see if the baby elephant is still in the next novel!