Summer reading list

18 Jul

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What is it about summer vacations that inevitably makes one reach out for their novels? To crave for long hours of solitude with nothing more pressing on one’s mind than to finish that particular book?
Is it the fact that as kids we were taught to make reading a book before bed a habit? Or is it because it is much easier to stay in the comfort of the soothingly cold indoors in comparison to letting ourselves scorch under the sweltering sun?
Or maybe, it’s because in the silence of the summer nights, it is easier to get lost in the worlds of our favorite writers than to engage in world wars with the mosquitoes.

While I try to fathom the answer to why I once again find myself wandering down the aisles of our local bookstores, to ‘celebrate’ the start of my summer vactions with the “cha-ching” at their tills, and why I am again going through the yellow, fragile pages of those long cherished, too often read books of mine which I am afraid might literally ‘break’ in my hands, I will leave you with a list of some of my most recommended summer books. Whether you are heading out for a day at the beach, or traveling back home-these books are going to be perfect ‘partners’ for you.

The ones I am re-reading.

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1. A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini
No one can put heart breaking realities into enthralling words like Hosseini, and this book is no different.
It is a moving story about two women from different backgrounds, different generations, different ideologies brought together by chance and finding through each other the most unexpected of hope, friendship and love so pure and so powerful that it gives birth to the unlikeliest of heroes in a Taliban-run Afghanistan.
It’s heart wrenching, it’s unimaginably beautiful and it makes you hurt for Mariam as Laila would, and worry for the later as Mariam would. In this story of love, loss and the inevitable pain which comes with the both of them, Hosseini brings to life two women whose story you will never forget.

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2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Most know Tolstoy via Anna Karenina, but I personally believe this to be his better work. He is great at not just creating beautifully flawed characters, but he makes you appreciate the fact that nobody is perfect. And, above all, that no human is complete without the other.
This book highlights every flaw we humans are susceptible to, and how these flaws become more pronounced in the times of danger, of war. Placed in the time of French invasion of Russia, it shows through five aristocratic families (and their extensions) the impact of the war on the Tsarian society. When affairs ran torrid, sacred brotherhoods died protecting their secrets and young girls were for only to be flaunted to boys who wore their hearts on their sleeves, the book shows one how war can change everything and yet strengthen what was already strong. How nothing is inevitable when everything seems impossible. How gender doesn’t define heroism just as love is not infinite. A story about brothers, fathers, warriors and politics, lovers and affairs , murders and money-it has a bit of everything and, yet, just everything in perfection.

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3. Persuasion by Jane Austen
Who does not know Jane Austen? Everybody does. Still, somehow, this book goes unread by the most avid of readers. It’s no Pride and Prejudice, but it’s serene flow and uncomplicated core makes it a must for any summer reading list. Charming, simple, funny-it stages a heroine who, when we meet her, has lost all she thought she could gain, but yet is still in the process of development. And, develop Anne does, much to the happiness of her mother’s best friend and the one person who loved the real her before she knew who that was. There isn’t much drama in it, and the fact that the heroine’s metamorphosis is believable, just as the characters are, makes the book like a soothing lemonade on a hot summer evening.

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4. Me before you by Jojo Moyes
There is something sweetly enchanting about how Jojo writes which urges you to finish the book without putting it down. Funny, quirky, easy-flowing, this book deals with a sensitive topic so demurely that it touches your heart while at the same time showing you the day-to-day woes of quadriplegic patients. The book starts off with a dissatisfied Will Traynor, annoyed with the destruction an accident has left him with, till Lou comes in. Lou, a bundle of energy, is exactly what his bleak life required and she shows him, and us, why life needs to be not just loved but cherished. Poignant, sweet and reaffirming, it is a must-read, especially for a little holiday entertainment.

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5. One Day by David Nicholls
David Nicholls really did it with this romantic-comedy wonder. The sharp humor, the unexpected laugh-out-loud wit, the chemistry with the will they/won’t they question every-looming above Emma and Dexter over a span of twenty years would have been enough, but add to it the undercurrents of some deeper realities, the hilarious chance encounters, the shocking reunions and the bittersweet (and extremely moving) ending chapters of the book and you have not just a best seller, but a book that you want to turn to as often as you can. (Caution-Some readers shamelessly own up to the fact that they shed a tear or two during it, hence, read at your own risk.)

The ones I haven’t read before

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6. The Goldfinch
I just started reading this book, and, to say that it was hard for me to pull away from that and come write this, is an understatement. As I don’t know the whole story, I will leave you with Amazon’s summary of it and this; it won a Pulitzer for a reason, the book is perfectly, wonderfully written up till now.

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by a longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. And , his talisman, the painting, places him at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

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7. Looking for Alaska by John Green
This work of Green comes strongly recommended from at least half a dozen friends. This book is also based on teenagers, but, why shouldn’t it be, when John seems to know them better than they themselves do, this line bearing proof to that, “In the dark beside me, she smelled of sweat and sunshine and vanilla and on that thin-mooned night I could see little more than her silhouette, but even in the dark, I could see her eyes – fierce emeralds. And not just beautiful, but hot too.”
Between Miles, who just moved to a new school, Martin, the friend who takes it upon himself to teach Miles how to do everything right, and Alaska, the gorgeous ‘cool’ girl who hides something behind her smiles, lies another eventful tale that draws the teenage life to perfection and shows you the harrowing reality of how precious life can be.

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8. #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
If you love online shopping, you will love this Cinderella story about Nasty Gal co-founder and CEO, Sophia Amoruso. General consensus? Inspiring enough to make you want to build your own empire. My two cents? The strength and wit of this woman have always been attractive and I can’t wait to read this one. Besides, who does not love Nasty Gal?

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9. Paradise by Judith McNaught
For the romantics amongst you, there is nothing better than a McNaught novel. With characters you fall in love with in a second and dialogues that you will keep in your heart forever, it’s one of the best books to read to unwind yourself.

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10. Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg
Not the breeziest of summer reads, but surely one of the most inspiring ones. I came across this woman wonder via Ted and a little research turned up this book. She is all about women empowerment, on an individual level as well as via helping others like us. And her tips on her Ted talk were amazing. So, if you want to improve any aspect of your persona (your presentation, speech, interpersonal skills) do give this book a read and learn how to take your career into your hands and succeed to your goals in leaps and bounds. After all, the tag line of the book says it all, Women, Work and the Will to lead.

I can’t wait to get started on these.
Hope you love any and all of them too if you decide to read them.

Love,
Gull

11 things-We love about summer

5 Jul

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If you are a Pakistani, you know it’s not an easy job to love the summer season here in the planes.
In fact, most of you will say that that’s an understatement.
But, what is life if we aren’t optimists? So, to pursue that optimism and to take everyone along with me on that ride, I asked around a question that would force people to look for the positive in even this barely-liked season.
Here are 11 of my most favorite answers, all by parts funny, shocking and-above all-overflowing with positivity, to the question-

What do you love about the summer season?

“Longer days. More time to shop.” Zari, 29, HR consultant.

” Two words. Summer dresses-yup, Barns got that right.” SSK, student, 21. (Um. Sure.)

“Lizards. Kidding. This year? The World Cup. FIFA is the bomb.” UR, student, 23.

“Vacations!! Off to Europe, baby.” Gina, teacher, 31. (Take me with you!)

“All the pool parties. The days at the water park. Water fights…did I mention pool parties?” Reems, workaholic, 18.

“The summer break. Why?Cause, hello, brings everyone back in town.” H, amateur photographer/student, 23.

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“The tan, of course. Oh. Oh. And the bright colors-like, (they are) everywhere.” Sidu.

” ‘Hot boys’? Or…even better…getting to go back home. In fact, scratch that, mangoes have got to be what keeps me alive in the summers.” Reesh, aspiring philanthropist/student, 20.

“The laziness of it all. The slow mornings with the warm nights and the never ending hang outs all mixed together to give the best of cocktails.” GZ, Business Consultant, 33.

“Swimming. Mangoes. And the spirit of us Pakistanis to do it all despite the killing temperatures.” Dua, student, 21.

“A cool drink on a hot evening with gossip and some friends. Doesn’t get better (than that), not in the summers at least.” Rabail, 29.

The season isn’t so bad after all, or is it?

Enjoy it while it lasts,
Gull.

10 things-that turn off women.

4 Jul

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We all have quirks. We all love said quirks in different forms in others. However, there are certain things that result in the natural gag reflex from us within a second. Or, to put it delicately, that disgust us. We women have our own list of such remarkable attributes too, just like men do (yes, we all know about your obsession with white teeth and curvy tall girls) which we love…to avoid.
Astonishingly, when I asked around what would be a turn off for women, or what would be the deciding factor for them when it came to their attraction (or the end of it) towards the opposite sex, I found too many similarities in their answers, and yet too many differences.
So, rather than counting off each “unacceptable flaw” for you, I will give you a list of my ten favorite answers to, “what, in a man, would turn you off?”, from ten completely different women.

“That guy over there? One with the fake smile and crap fashion sense? Embodiment of what would make me run away.” Diju, student, 22.

“Over-ambition. They are the ones who never get anywhere. And too much chest hair.” Sara, fashion intern, 23.

“Too much hair (chest-or anywhere for that matter-except on their heads). Acne. The list goes on. Oh, and I hate boys wearing jewelry.” S, student, 21.

“Gossiping guys-worse than any ‘Mean Girl’ nightmare I tell you. And, lack of hygiene. Cringeworthy! “ Rabia, writer/single (that’s how she wanted it.)

“My answer puts all men off the acceptable list, maybe, but lack of gentlemanly manners. The ‘ladies first’, ‘will walk you to the car’, ‘will take care of you’ attitude that’s been missing, that’s a huge turn off. “ Zee, architect-to-be, 23.

“Short men. Fat men. Gay men (you know the type). Hairy men. Lazy men. Still, worst amongst them would be those who have the audacity to joke unfeelingly about my gender in front of me. Get a life guys. ” Noor, photography enthusiast, 23.

“Lack of self respect. That doesn’t mean narcism is attractive either. Both are equally repulsive. Fattee, engineer, 27.

“Short height. ‘Nuff said. ” Nash, interior design internee, 19.

“The wannabe fashionistas. I mean, are you kidding me? Just suit up, bro.” Rida, lawyer (in the making), 22.

“Food falling out of their mouths when they eat.” M, student, 21.

And here is one extra, because I just couldn’t keep it to ten and because I personally agree with it completely.

“Guys that curse too much.” Anz, student, 21.

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Impact

27 Jun

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In life you meet all sorts of people. And they all end up having a different meaning to everyone, depending not solely on who they are as an individual, but rather what kind of an impact they have had on those around them.
Hence, it would be fair to say, that despite there being a need to develop ourselves as our own people, as distinct individuals, we can not go on to be any one till we have that human interaction, till we judge and are judged in return. Till we get a chance to be a person. In short, we aren’t “we” till we have others to help us be so.

However, I digress. For this post isn’t on how we develop into who we are. Nor how,without impacting others in a million ways,we couldn’t exist (for that has to be one of the main criteria of our own existence and to be aware of others’).
Rather, this post is dedicated to all those people who in one way or another, influence our lives.
In a small way, in a billion ways-almost they all do, but at the end it sums down to three main kinds of them-at least three main kinds of those for whom I am writing this post, those which I would like to commemorate this with or those, who for a second, I want to remember.

First up, there are those, who come to be there. To last. Maybe they don’t cause enough of a stir in us, maybe they don’t cause that eye opening change in us, in our lives-but they are there, to stay. And the warmth of their presence in itself has such a continuous effect on us, that we are changed, little by little, forever. Yet never to realize how. Or why. The glow of their presence is just enough to let us shine through life. To be our best, our strongest.

On the other hand, there are those, who walk in and out of our lives, without leaving any imprint on us. Without being able to extract anything more than a tiny smile from us as they come to the threshold of our memories, once in a blue moon or two. We could have known them for days or months, or years. But they are to us but like plain bread. Nice, sweet, but unimpressive. Boring. Forgettable.

Finally, there are those, who make us question every step of our lives before them, and change us on so many levels that we realize we are no more the same person. That we never will be, and we are fine with that. Nay, we are happy with it being so. For this change, into a different person, a new human being, they make it anything but smooth yet extremely exciting. They help us find an ‘us’ we were not even aware of. They charm us, they entice us. They come like hurricanes, wreak havoc in our lives, and then they help us put it back together in a way completely unforeseen. And, mostly, in a way that makes us ask ourselves why we hadn’t been so before. But, we won’t stay that way either. A new stimulus will come for sure, our body-our core-would respond to it in a new way. And again we will alter, but yet build up on all that was there before.

I love this third category of people. And am constantly on the look out for them. They have this energy, which the others can’t feel, but its completely in sync with yours. This aura that you feel they borrowed from you, yet it’s somehow different. This pull, which makes you feel like there is an invisible thread joining your souls, which begs you to think if that connection was always there just waiting to be discovered and felt. If that person was always supposed to be your storm and your support, your salvation at the same time.

You might be thinking why I write this. Just two reasons; one, this is my way of honoring and thanking all the people that came, especially those that effected me in any way. And for pushing you to look around yourself, find out any such people in your life, and thank them.
And, two, I had a recent brush with one such person. That’s all it came down to. And though every part of my soul begs me to try a little harder to get that person in my life, to let them impact me, be my storm-I won’t. My instincts might be right but if it has to be forced, then it isn’t worth it.
My best friend disagrees, for she believes that this kind of a connection is too rarely felt to be let go of this easily.
But what are best friends for if not for arguing over…almost everything?

The point is not if I will get that person, the point is if you do get that person, let them flow over you like the Tsunami, for what would be left of you would be so much more.

Love thyself.

22 May

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When I was a young girl, I read a line in one of my favorite books that has somehow stuck with me since then, or rather the last words in it have-”love is hard”.
I though I understood it, but I was wrong. Only age and experience really tells you how hard love is. Really tells you the depth of those words.
And it’s not only the romantic kind we are talking about here. No.
Love in all it’s forms-that for your friends, your siblings, your parents-is at the end of the day a strenuous task. And, as it is such a part of our daily lives, it’s neither inevitable nor abhor-able. It’s bittersweet in its pain. What the question ends up being is, if the bitter overpowers the sweet or vice versa.
The answer to that can only truly help you finally decide if it’s worth trying for more or should you give up.
But that’s the catch. You can never really give up, you can never really move on. What you can do is leave a piece of yourself behind and try to repress the need to go rushing back to that particular part. Repress your longings, your memories.
And hold with two hands, in fact your whole body, the door to that part closed forever.
So, no matter how easily we tell each other, “Give up. Move on. They aren’t worth it!”-both parties know that is not just hard, it’s partly not possible.
You might give up on a relation, but you can’t hold back the longing of the “what if”. You might move on, but a part of your mind is still mingled in what was, what you tried to make it be. And as you turn your back on it, your battered feelings will mourn what they lost and the hollowness in you will whisper that maybe it was worth it. Maybe you gave up too soon. Maybe…
But we can either let ourselves be stuck in relationships destined for doom, keep showering our love where it isn’t deserved and keep ourselves open to the hurt of being rejected in those million ways which people who have power over our hearts have mastered the art of doing.
Or we can accept the truth. What is that? It’s the fact that although our love for them will never be eradicated from us, although even the bitter moments with them our heart prizes and even though our mind keeps conjuring up the “what if” scenarios, it’s best to walk away with the little self respect we still have, with the little good in our relationships still intact rather then letting it all be marred by the darkness of pain and failure. To give up before the rejection is our undoing.
For when we do so, when we walk away before the tsunami of emotions was to destroy one or both of the parties we leave with a better chance of it working sometime in the future and most importantly we leave with some of our self love intact.
Because no love is harder then self love, none more scorned and bad-mouthed by the society.
None more important than it.
So protect yourself, your emotions, your sanity and walk away before it’s too late.
When you do, with the pain will be hope of another maybe.
Maybe in future we will be better, and till then you will be happy that you respected your own self.
If you can’t say those last words to yourself, the damage will be much worse then can be imagined. And you would have lost upon the most necessary love of all.

Love. Yourself. Be happy.

Hey US-Ayyyy!

20 May

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I am here in the States, and it’s turning out to be a better experience than I had been looking forward to. We arrived here on the 14th of this month and although it took me around five days to fight away my jet leg, I am too happy to complain about anything right now.

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We began the trip from Purdue (West Lafayette) with my brother’s graduation ceremony, and I instantly fell in love with the laid back, calm pace of the area and the unending charm of the hospitable people there.

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The four days there were great and after a night’s rest following the Spring Commencement, we drove over to Chicago and though the pace of this city is not strikingly fast, it’s still a huge step up from the calm of West Lafayette, and somehow the contrast is just as much charming as it’s enjoyable.

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The Sky Ledge on Sears, the Millenium Park, the Navy Pier, the Riverside Walk-all of them typical tourist spots and none of them even slightly disappointing. From taking selfies with roadside musicians, to capturing graffiti and true love on camera, to having coffee every other hour and sharing the experience with strangers-till now the experience has been nothing short of lovely.

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Let’s hope that the East coast doesn’t disappoint us in the future either.
Looking forward to more adventures,
Yours forever,
Gull.

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Drink it up

2 May

Summer time...!!

Summer time…!!

When the hottest season in town walks in, we can do nothing but stare and gulp down that cold drink in front of us to take away the sudden dryness in our mouths. To cool our own selves down.
Here are four of our favorite recipes for delicious drinks that will help you do not only the afore mentioned, but which are also undeniably easy to make.

Mexicano

Mexicano

1. Mexican Iced Coffee-This drink, let me warn you, is not for the faint hearted. The flavors are definitely strong, however, it somehow balances everything within itself helping it stop at the brink of crossing over to the ‘dark side’. When in mood for something different, do give it a shot. I copied Deborah Schneider’s recipe from here, except that I substituted the liqueur with coffee extract (espresso would do as well) and cut down a bit on the cream.

St. Patrick's all year long.

St. Patrick’s all year long.

2. Shamrock Shake-Ok, this isn’t much different from your vanilla shakes, and yet a completely different experience. I use the recipe given below, which I borrowed from Emily Schuman, though when making it for myself I skip on the cream.
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of whole milk (less milk if you prefer thicker shakes)
2 large scoops of premium vanilla ice cream
1 tsp of peppermint extract (or essence if you cant find that)
2 dashes of mint bitters (optional for flavor and color)
2 drops of green food coloring (if you’re not using bitters)
Whipped cream (for the topping).

Method:1. Place all ingredients into a blender, in the order they are listed.
2. Turn blender on and mix until you reach your preferred consistency.
3. Pour into a tall glass and top with whipped cream.

Berry Blast.

Berry Blast.

3. Berry Blast-This drink is a roller coaster ride for your taste buds, and at the same time it’s extremely healthy and rejuvenating making it a necessity for facing the upcoming heat waves.

Ingredients:3/4 cup chilled orange juice
1/3 cup chilled pineapple juice
2 cups vanilla yogurt
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen sliced strawberries
1/2 banana, sliced

Method:1.In a blender combine strawberries, milk, yogurt, sugar and vanilla.
2. Toss in the ice. Blend until smooth and creamy. Pour into chilled glasses, top with chopped berries and serve.

Frozen Blueberry Lemonade-We all love our lemonade on those burning hot evenings when even breathing seems like too much work, but the drink can get boring. This recipe is one way to spice it up. The best thing about this drink is, you can have as much as you want with minimum guilt about gaining too much weight
I hope you enjoy your drinks and summer.

Until next time,
Gull.

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