Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norsemythologyNeil Gaiman is a great author. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of his other books and Norse Mythology is the latest addition. I didn’t read the synopsis before reading Norse Mythology because I know any Neil Gaiman read is a good read, if not great, because he is a master in storytelling.

Norse Mythology is a retelling of an ancient myth. It is a collection of stories of a dysfunctional family of powerful gods including Odin, Thor and Loki. The book begins with the introduction of Asgard and ends with the destruction of it. The different stories have  different characters but with either Odin, Thor or Loki in it. Some stories were short, some were long. Some of my favorites include A Mead of Poets, The Treasures of Gods, and Freya’s Unusual Wedding.

The characters were such a mood. Thor has such a passion for eating. But he was an idiot, too. In a charming way, I must say. 🙂 I liked how Freya is often fed up with Thor and Loki. Loki is my favorite character, what a savage. For most parts, he was the central character. It seems to me that Neil Gaiman loves Loki the most among these gods. Ha! Many of the characters were the same throughout the story but I loved what he did with Loki’s character and what it did to me as a reader who liked Loki a lot. Loki didn’t actually change much but my opinion of him has changed. I think the same thing happened for many of the readers — it has made the reader feel different. I’m sure many readers liked Loki so much in the beginning, it was really easy to like him. Then in the end, it was also very easy to hate him thus, he becomes the reader’s least favorite character. Well, it’s easy to think and write of a character change but I think, only a skilled writer can make you change your opinion without having to tell you to. And that is what Gaiman just did so well.

Norse Mythology is a quick, magical and  easy read. It is a well-written book and one you can easily enjoy. It is a good feeling to be immersed in the world of Asgard. 

Quotable Quotes:

“That was the thing about Loki. You resented him even when you were at your most grateful, and you were grateful to him even when you hated him the most.”

“Rebirth always follows death.”

“Each insult is woven with just enough truth to make it wound.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II was written by Iris Chang. It was originally published in 1997, the same year of the 60th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre during the second Sino-Japanese war.

therapeofnanking

The Rape of Nanking tells of the episodes of the mass rape, massacre and other atrocities the Japanese soldiers committed against the people of Nanking during its conquest in December 1937 and lasted for six or so weeks. Nanking, then capital city of China, went through the one of the worst mass murder in modern history. 

The book is divided into three parts. The first part was the events that happened during the “rape” of Nanking. The second part tells of what the other countries thought of the these events. And third, the author’s own analysis of the events, the cause why these events happened and why these remained unnoticed and unrecognized even decades after the war.

Iris Chang’s writing style was very direct and this I think is one of the best things about this book along with the remarkable number of survivors who helped/contributed in its creation.

The Rape of Nanking was a successful book specially that it reached many people around the globe specially in the west where very little or nothing is known about the massacre. However, this success came with a cost. Chang received several death threats and harassment. Since the release of the book, she also suffered from depression and sleep deprivation. She carried the burden and felt responsible to tell the world the truth and the facts regarding the “rape” of Nanking. In the end, she killed herself and Nanking claimed another victim.

Quotable Quotes:

“Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin – one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war.”

“As the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel warned years ago, to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.”

“Almost all people have this potential for evil, which would be unleashed only under certain dangerous social circumstances.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

Maus II by Art Spiegelman

maus2Maus II continues the holocaust survival story of Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek. In this second book, we learn of Vladek and his wife Anja’s struggles in order to survive in the two deadliest concentration camps ran by the Nazis and their lives after. It also shows the impact of these terrible experiences to Vladek, who now is an old man and how this affected Art’s life negatively at the same time. However, this also gave Art a purpose, to write a book about his father’s distressing and heartbreaking story.

I must say that Maus I was a rough read already but Maus II is rougher. Brutal. Heart-wrenching. Vladek related the stories inside the camps, death and torture and how tough and disheartening it makes someone to be there. It’s fascinating to read how Vladek tried his best to survive and help others while inside the camps, at the same time making sure that Anja is keeping well. One of the things that really hit me hard here was when Vladek and Anja learned of each other still alive. They got separated in the camps but knowing, just knowing, that the other is alive brought to me too much emotions. It was kinda difficult getting rid of the heaviness I felt then. It’s just too hard to imagine how difficult it was then for the victims of the holocaust and the war as a whole.

As is with Maus I, the illustrations in Maus II were equally extraordinary, terrifying, very personal and essential. The characters were again portrayed as animals. Very powerful. The storytelling style was as beautiful as the first volume.

It’s hard to put into words how I loved both books so much so I urge you to read it, only then will you understand.

Quotable Quotes:

“No matter what I accomplish, it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz.”

” I feel so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than my darkest dreams.”

“People haven’t changed … Maybe they need a newer, bigger Holocaust.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

thesundownmotelCarly Kirk’s aunt Vivian Delaney accepted a job as night clerk in The Sun Down Motel thirty-five years ago in the small, mysterious town of Fell, NY and then she disappeared. At present, Carly is now the same age as her aunt Viv when she disappeared. When her mom died, she left college and went to Fell in search for answers for the disappearance of her aunt. She ended up taking the same job as night clerk in Sun Down, stayed in the same apartment where Viv used to live and soon started experiencing the very same troubles.

The Sun Down Motel is my first book from Simone St. James and I liked her gripping writing style. She did a good job with the dual narrative. It makes you curious and interested to read on the similarities between the two timelines, though there were times it got a bit confusing which timeline I was in. Viv and Carly’s characters were also well-developed. I also liked the way the author managed to create an eerie atmosphere, it wasn’t very scary but it gave the right level of spookiness that’ll give you the creeps.

I enjoyed this supernatural thriller as a whole and I think my only complaint was how quick the ending was. It was all crammed in so few pages and it felt rushed. Other than that, I enjoyed the read.

Quotable Quotes:

“The person who could be truly alone, in the company of no one but oneself and one’s own thoughts—that person was stronger than anyone else. More ready. More prepared.”

“Spend my nights at the Sun Down? I was the kind of girl who would spend the night in a supposedly haunted house, just to see what would happen. That sounded like my ideal vacation.”

“This place is dark. Some of us like the dark. It’s what we know.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

giovannisroomGiovanni’s Room follows the story of David, an American guy who is struggling to accept his sexuality. He has been seeing a girl named Hella for quite some time and is vacationing in Spain “to think.”David moved to Paris for some time and got involved with the Italian-born Giovanni. Uncertainty and confusion started to emerge on David as he finds himself having to choose between Giovanni and Hella. Inside Giovanni’s dark and suffocating room, much of this argument and discussion between man and woman, homosexuality and heterosexuality took place.

This is my first experience on James Baldwin’s works and I find this book remarkable. In 1950s America, discussions on homosexuality was very controversial. It also explores the people’s attitude during these times to topics like femininity and masculinity.

I love the novel’s structure where you know a murder will happen right from the start and as a reader, you would want to find out how it happened and why it happened.

This is a terribly sad and heart-wrenching novel but at the same time beautiful with a very rich prose. One of the many books I look forward to rereading.

Quotable Quotes:

It takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both.”

Not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour – and in the oddest place! – for the lack of it.”

You are the one who keeps talking about what I want. But I have only been talking about who I want.”

“And no matter what I was doing, another me sat in my belly, absolutely cold with terror over the question of my life.”

“There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

mysistertheserialkillerMy Sister, The Serial Killer is a story set in Nigeria’s corrupt system of law and order. It’s a mix of humor and mystery and tackles societal expectations, relationships and kinship. It follows the story of Korede and her younger sister, Ayoola. Korede is plain, pragmatic and reliable while Ayoola is beautiful, charismatic and manipulative. Ayoola has just killed her boyfriend, again, her third victim, which now makes her a serial killer. Korede thinks it odd that Ayoola is carrying a knife but then just keeps quiet about it and helped her sister clean the mess at hand.

It is a short read, you can finish it in one sitting. It is written in short chapters alternating between the past and present, which I really liked as I get to know about the previous murders. Oyinkan Braithwaite is skillful in transitioning between different periods of time. Moreover, I liked how her characters were examined without revealing too much which allows for moments of surprise. Korede confides to a comatose patient in the hospital where she works for. It’s somewhat an unlikely relationship but this shows Korede’s sense of isolation from the people around her.

While the story’s language is simple and the chapters are short, there are multiple layers to this story which will keep the reader captivated. I somehow struggled with the absence of a character to like or love. I also didn’t connect emotionally to the novel and this resulted to somewhat an unsatisfying read but I must say, I was never bored in the story itself.

The ending might surprise some but it makes the most sense if you noticed the author’s clues throughout the story.

Quotable Quotes:

“She does not cry for me,” he says, his voice hardening. “She cries for her lost youth, her missed opportunities and her limited options. She does not cry for me, she cries for herself.”

“Is there anything more beautiful than a man with a voice like an ocean?”

“Love is not a weed, It cannot grow where it please…”

“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”

Rating: 3/5 stars

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

genghiskhanMost of us have heard about Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. More often, he and his people are regarded as brute, ruthless and hostile. Almost always in a negative setting. Nevertheless, his and the empire’s story is captivating and needs to be told.

In this book, the author, Jack Weatherford tells us the story of Genghis Khan and his empire and how it shaped the beginning of the modern world. Weatherford asks us to reconsider our view of this great leader and his descendants.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World starts in detailing the early life of Genghis Khan, who was brought into the world in the steppe between Mongolia and Siberia. He was named Temujin by his father which means “of iron” or “blacksmith.” It was in year 1206 (if I remember it right) that he became the leader of the great Mongol nation and was then named Genghis Khan. The information on his early life was based on a document discovered called The Secret History of the Mongols. He did not have an easy childhood. He was confronted with many difficulties as a child. He didn’t have a formal education but he knew tradition and he knew that he lives in a dangerous world. His father was murdered and their family was cast out of the clan and so they were forced to live and survive on their own. He was also kidnapped and was forced to be a slave and this started his determination to seek revenge on every tribe that made his life difficult as a child.

The book focused more on the classic Mongol era — the period from Genghis Khan to Khubilai Khan. The stream of details will truly captivate the reader. And well, yes, Genghis Khan and his armies killed many people, sure, but warfare was important in creating the Mongol empire. Through his organized warfare, he unites everyone in every place he conquers regardless of their race and religion. Warfare and uniting the people were big steps that contributed to the foundation of the modern world and Genghis Khan made many laws. Genghis Khan is an extremely reformist leader. He made sure of everyone’s fundamental freedoms, everyone including women. He also advocated for human rights and education.

Genghis Khan and the other rulers of the Mongol empire practiced universalism. Since they didn’t have their own system to impose on their people, they were open to combine systems from the different places they have conquered. They looked and tried for what worked best for the empire. It is also notable that one of the best achievement of the Mongols was their great ability to blend with different local cultures thus giving the empire’s rule an exceptional degree of stability.

In the end, though, the empire was defeated by an unexpected enemy which was the plague. It spread like wildfire. Millions of people died. Eventually the empire started to fall and left divided into smaller kingdoms. Consequently, there came a growing anti-Asian attitude specially focused on the Mongols.

I enjoyed reading this book and hope to read more about Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire. Genghis Khan rocks!

Quotable Quotes:

“Genghis Khan recognized that warfare was not a sporting contest or a mere match between rivals; it was a total commitment of one people against another. Victory did not come to the one who played by the rules; it came to the one who made the rules and imposed them on his enemy.”

“Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others.”

” …there is no good in anything until it is finished…”

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

thesecretlivesofbabasegiswivesThe Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s wives, as the title implies, is the story of Baba Segi’s four wives. Baba Segi is a wealthy businessman from Nigeria. He strongly believes that the number of wives and children (sons most specially) a man has is the measure of real manhood. You’d laugh at how obsessed Baba Segi was in planting his seeds to his wives. Ha!

Baba Segi’s wives all live with shocking secrets. I will not spoil them for you, of course, but let me introduce the four wives. The first wife is Iya Segi. Being the first wife, she is the queen. She loves money and that makes her an accomplished businesswoman. The second wife is Iya Tope. She’s quiet and dismissive, she doesn’t mind Iya Segi calling the shots at home. She’s just happy taking care of her daughters. Iya Femi is the third wife and though I don’t like her, I find her character very interesting. She loves plotting revenge on people, she enjoys it and she’s happy when people are miserable. Then comes Bolanle, the fourth wife, the only educated wife of Baba Segi. The youngest and somehow Baba Segi’s favorite until it turns out that she’s barren. Baba Segi turned against her until the secrets started to come out. It wasn’t really surprising anymore if you’ve focused on the wives’ stories but I could imagine how each revelation was so shocking and painful for Baba Segi.

This book gives us a good view of life in Nigeria specially for women. Women who may be different from many of us and the life we’re living but they are also humans who have wishes and dreams, big and small. It’s saddening to read about the polygamous kind of marriage that exists there and the role of women as wives most specially their “obligation” to conceive a male heir. And if you can’t, you’re good for nothing.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is a wonderful book. There’s a roller-coaster of emotions while I was reading it. It’s beautifully-written and the characters were well-drawn. Lola Shoneyin did a good job in engaging and captivating the readers.

Quotable Quotes:

“The choices we have to make in this world are hard are bitter. Sometimes we have no choices at all.”

“Men are nothing. They are fools. The penis between their legs is all they are useful for. And even then, if not that women needed their seed for children, it would be better to sit on a finger of green plantain. Listen to my words. Only a foolish woman leans heavily on a man’s promises.”

“A real woman must always do the things she wants to do, and in her own time too. You must never allow yourself to be rushed into doing things you’re not ready for.”

“Don’t think I can’t see the challenges ahead of me. People will say I am a secondhand woman. Men will hurt and ridicule me but I won’t let them hold me back. I will remain in the land of the living. I am back now and the world is spread before me like an egg cracked open.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

shuggiebainThe story is set during the Thatcher-era in Glasgow, Scotland. A time where men are almost out of work and single mothers try to keep their families together. Agnes Bain marries for the second time and she sinks deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Shuggie is the only child from this second union and he loves and adores his mother so much and he tries his best to protect and save her from herself. Shuggie had a difficult childhood but his love for his mother never ever falters. He has a philandering father and a sister and a brother from his mother’s first marriage. They lived a poor life relying on government aid and sometimes stealing money from coin boxes to use electricity. Moreover, Shuggie is not like the other boys in their neighborhood, he tends to act more like a girl and this caused him unwanted attention and bullying. It’s heartbreaking reading about him growing up with this sense of being different while being humiliated and hurt by the people around him.

Shuggie Bain tackled many themes: love between mother and child, poverty, resilience, addiction, alcoholism, sexuality, devotion, struggle, hope. This is not an easy read and the story was paced rather slow. It’s heart-wrenching but it shows the power of human spirit. It’s miserable but there is always that hope, no matter how tiny, that it will somehow get better.

Highly-deserved winner of the Booker Prize.

Quotable Quotes:

“Sometimes you don’t even want a thing. You just can’t
bear anyone else to have it.”

“Flames are not just the end, they are also the beginning. For everything that you have destroyed can be rebuilt. From your own ashes you can grow again.”

“Rain was a natural state of Glasgow. It kept the grass green and the people pale and bronchial.”

“My mother has never worked a day in her life. She’s far too good-looking for that.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

kirakiraKira-Kira means glittering. Katie’s sister, Lynn, taught her this. Katie adores and loves her sister too much. As sisters, they mostly do everything together. Lynn taught Katie mostly everything. Katie wants to be like Lynn. From Iowa, they moved to Georgia for a better life. The story took place in the 1950’s and at that time, the people in Iowa were not very friendly to them. Lynn got sick and their family is faced with many roadblocks. Life seemed not very glittering anymore.

The book was narrated in a very gentle way by Katie as a child with a child’s understanding of things. Though the story dealt with difficult topics like death and racism, it was still easy to read even for children.

Kira-Kira is a powerful and engaging read. It has its moments of happiness and moments of ultimate sadness. The ending was quite sad but the lessons learned while reading were all worth the read.

Quotable Quotes:

“My sister had taught me to look at the world that way, as a place that glitters, as a place where the calls of the crickets and the crows and the wind are everyday occurrences that also happen to be magic.”

“Some days I think she was really miserable, because she cried a lot. In a way, I’d had to steel my heart to her crying. You need to steel yourself to a lot of things when someone in your family is really sick.”

“The blue of the sky is one of the most special colors in the world, because the color is deep but see-through both at the same time.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

themidnightlibraryThe Midnight Library centers around a thirty-five-year-old woman, Nora Seed, who has been living her life in despair and regret. She lost her will to live. She doesn’t talk to her father, brother and friend. Her mom died two years ago and she was suffering from depression since then. She lost her job and her cat died. She felt like a mess, she felt useless. She thinks she just disappoints everyone and so no one wants needs her. She’s having a very difficult time and so she decided to kill herself. Just a few moments before she’d kill herself, she finds herself transported in the Midnight Library. Here in this library, she met Mrs. Elm, her old school librarian, who explained to her everything she needs to know about how things work and why she’s there. She said the Midnight Library is a place between heaven and hell, a place where she has a chance to change her circumstances, a chance to make things right. So, will Nora take the chance?

I decided to read this book because it won Best Fiction in Goodreads but I was not very happy about it. I never felt connected to Nora Seed or her troubles at all. I was annoyed by her all through out. I didn’t feel engaged or captivated in anything that’s happening in the story. I wasn’t moved. The idea of the Midnight Library was quite interesting but the ending was predictable early on which makes the story not so interesting anymore. I almost gave up halfway through it. I’m just glad that the second half of the book was better than the first. And luckily the book was short.

I must say I felt dissatisfied with this one maybe because I was expecting something deeper. I expected to feel more but didn’t. However, I did very much like the lessons from this book. These lessons would be enough takeaway but I think I’d avoid over-hyped books for a while.

Quotable Quotes:

“In chess, as in life, possibility is the basis of everything. Every hope, every dream, every regret, every moment of living.”

“Never underestimate the big importance of small things.”

“You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.”

“She realised that you could be as honest as possible in life,
but people only see the truth if it is close enough to their
reality.”

“The only way to learn is to live.”

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

theextraordinarylifeofsamhellThe Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is a very touching, very engaging, coming-of-age story of a boy named Sam Hill who faced adversity all his life because he was born with ocular albinism which gave him red eyes. He was bullied and called Sam Hell or devil boy. Though he was bullied in school, he was very much protected by his mother, raised to be a real man by his father and was very much loved by his few friends.

Sam grew up from a religious family and he wanted to believe what his mom always tells him — that God made him extraordinary. He struggled to overcome his fears and the obstacles that come his way and he started questioning his faith.

The chapters were short and easy to read. The characters were remarkable. Sam’s mother was a very note-worthy character, a very important woman in his life. His father was the same. The friendships were also endearing, it would be very nice to have friends like them.

I absolutely loved this book. It was incredible. I can’t recommend it enough. This is my first Robert Dugoni experience and it certainly won’t be the last.

Quotable Quotes:

“There comes a day in every man’s life when he stops looking forward and starts looking back.”

“But to my mother—I suspect to all mothers—their little boys will always be their little boys, no matter how old those boys become.”

“Our skin, our hair, and our eyes are simply the shell that surrounds our soul, and our soul is who we are. What counts is on the inside.”

“We realize it is in those quiet moments that each of us has the ability to make our lives extraordinary.”

“Time is wicked. It comes and goes like a thief in the night, stealing our youth, our beauty, and our bodies.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Push by Ashley Audrain

thepushThe Push centers on Blythe Connor, the narrator, as she recounts to her husband the events that broke their marriage and their family. The book also jumps to the past to show Blythe’s difficult childhood which helps us realize how much impact it had on her. She grew up not knowing the warmth of a mother’s love. Every now and then, we get flashbacks of her mother and grandmother, both suffering from mental illness and trauma.

When she first got pregnant, she was afraid at first but she vowed to become a better mother to her child and to not be like her mother/grandmother to her. However, she struggled to connect with her daughter, Violet. As she grows up, their relationship turned from bad to worse. Several incidents happened and she started to question herself whether all these are just inside her head. She was later convinced that there is something wrong with her daughter, something evil. Sadly, her husband didn’t believe her.

She later on got pregnant with her second child, Sam, where she finally felt the connection between mother and child. She was happy and content as a mother. However, she continued to struggle with Violet and she fears for Sam’s safety with Violet around.

This was a short, easy and interesting book which showed the darker side of motherhood. I was hooked from page one and I would’ve finished it in one sitting if not for work that needs to be done urgently. I loved the short, snappy chapters which helped make the story flow well and easy to read but will leave you feeling too much emotion as you read. Gripping and suspenseful.

Quotable Quotes:

“Marriages can float apart. Sometimes we don’t notice how far we’ve gone until all of a sudden, the water meets the horizon and it feels like we’ll never make it back.”

“A mother’s heart breaks a million ways in her lifetime.”

“We could have counted our problems on the petals of the daisy in my bouquet, but it wouldn’t be long before we were lost in a field of them.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The-Seven-Husbands-of-Evelyn-HugoI was intrigued when I first saw this book and I read it without any other information except that it’s about Evelyn Hugo, a Hollywood star, married seven times. But after reading it, there was so much more about Evelyn Hugo.

The author introduces to us the aging Evelyn Hugo who is now finally ready to tell the truth about her life, if and only if, the unknown reporter named Monique from Vivant will write her story. Everyone was baffled, why Monique? Why tell her story just now?

Evelyn and Monique soon started working with her story. Evelyn started from nothing but clawed her way to the top of Hollywood along with her seven marriages. As she tells her story, each of the marriages were discussed where we gradually understand Evelyn more. I think she is one of the most iconic characters I have read about. Sometimes I forget she’s fictional. Her story shows the struggle of women way back in the 1950s-1960s though they seem to appear like they’re the ones calling the shots. How sexual preferences wasn’t as open as it is now, how some are looked down upon. It also tells about how it was like then for a woman from a mixed race living in a white woman’s world. Layers upon layers of information were revealed in every chapter, it’s just incredible. Moreover, Monique’s story was a great addition in between Evelyn’s Hollywood drama.

This is my first read from Taylor Jenkins Reid. I wanted to read Daisy Jones and The Six last year but still haven’t gotten into it yet but now that I’ve had my first Reid experience, I am surely going to read it soon. Her writing is beautiful, I liked it a lot. She truly gave life to Evelyn Hugo’s character. She’s actually very good in characterization. All the other characters were also notable.

Read this if you haven’t yet.

Quotable Quotes:

“I’m under absolutely no obligation to make sense to you.”

“Never let anyone make you feel ordinary.”

“Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don’t do that.”

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”

“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

thebookoflostnamesThe Book of Lost Names is the story of Eva Traube, a young woman born in France whose parents are Polish Jews, working her way to become a librarian. The Nazis soon began mass arrests and one day, her father was captured while she and her mother were babysitting for the neighbor. She soon found her self forging documents for her and her mother in order to flee to the free zone of France. Upon arriving in a small town of Aurignon in the free zone, she learned of the underground resistance movement and later found herself forging documents for Jewish children, in order to escape to Switzerland.

Eva soon became increasingly important for the underground resistance movement and her relationships to the people around her became complex and tricky. Her views of the world changed and there came difficult decisions along the way. Eva and Remy had decided to keep a record of the children’s real names for them to remember later on who they really are, a secret between them, The Book of Lost Names. Then the resistance movement was betrayed and Remy also disappeared.

Many years later, Eva saw the very same book where she and Remy kept a record of the names of the children they helped to escape. She was then faced with a choice to just continue with her new life or to revisit her past.

The Book of Lost Names is a very interesting and captivating read full of historically accurate details. I love that I am continually learning more, the round-ups in Paris, the quaint little town in a considered free zone in France, the forgery and the children’s escape to Switzerland to name a few.

This is a story of courage, bravery, survival, endurance, the significance of forgery at that time, patience, loss, trust. It is wonderfully written and a page-turner. Well-researched. Great twists. Well-rounded characters. I have read a lot of books set in WWII and as with all war-set stories, I fear for most of the characters’ lives. With each book, a simple knock on the door makes your adrenaline rise. This is no different. I feared for Eva, for Remy, for Pere Clement and for nearly all the characters.

I loved this book and plan to read more from Kristin Harmel. Highly recommended.

Quotable Quotes:

“Reuniting a book with its rightful owner can be magical.”

“My point is that every parent wants what is best for his or her child. But we are all guilty of seeing things through our own lens.”

“Once you’ve fallen in love with books, their presence can make you feel at home anywhere, even in places where you shouldn’t belong.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

In Order to Live by Yeon-Mi Park

inordertolive

I have always been curious about North Korea, its people, their way of living, the autocratic Kim regime. I have read a few books/articles and it just increased my curiosity all the more. I am currently working in a South Korean company for almost 10 years now since I came here but North Korea is a very rare topic discussed among my colleagues.

In Order to Live is the memoir of Yeonmi Park as she and her mother escape North Korea in search of a better life. She tells of her family’s story as a child, the kind of life they lead, as well as the dictatorship in North Korea.

The book is divided into three parts: her life in North Korea, then in China and finally in South Korea.

Yeon-Mi mentioned the time after Russia and China put an end to their support for NK which greatly affected NK’s economy. Her father soon found himself selling whatever smuggled items he has in the black market. She also mentioned about songbun, the class groupings enforced by the NK government. Ms. Park’s paternal family used to belong to the “core” class, the highest class grouping, until one of her uncles was accused of raping a student where he was teaching. Since then, all related families were declassed to the lowest songbun.

About halfway through the book, their family’s focus was on China. As the days passed, it has became apparent that there is no future for their family in NK. It wasn’t easy to find a smuggler who will bring them to the NK-China border but as soon they found one, Ms. Park’s sister left first with her friend but gone missing. Ms. Park and her mother followed next leaving her father behind in hopes to find her sister and come back for her father after. Unfortunately, China, as they came to know, was a horrible place, too. They ended up in the nastiness of human trafficking, her mother was even raped in front of her.

Ms. Park and her mother eventually left China through Mongolia with the help of Christian missionaries. The rest of the book talked about the NIS and the Hanawon screening processes and how she and her mother adjusted to life in South Korea.

The writing wasn’t particularly beautiful but that’s okay. Let it not stop you from reading Ms. Park’s story. I encourage you to read this remarkable book and educate yourself through this eye-opening, although shattering, important story.

Quotable Quotes:

“We all have our own deserts. They may not be the same as my desert, but we all have to cross them to find a purpose in life and be free.”

“It amazed me how quickly a lie loses its power in the face of truth.”

“I inhaled books like other people breathe oxygen. I didn’t just read for knowledge or pleasure, I read to live.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

thegirlwiththeloudingvoiceThe Girl with the Louding Voice is Abi Dare’s debut novel and wow, what an amazing debut!

This is Adunni’s story, a fourteen-year-old girl from the small village of Ikati in Nigeria who wants a proper education and a louding voice. She lives with her alcoholic father and two brothers. Her mother was the breadwinner of the family and wished for Adunni to be able to attend and finish school but she soon passed away. At the wake  of her mother’s death, her father married her off to a rich man named Morufu to be his third wife in order to collect the bride-price. A series of events occurred while she was married to Morufu and soon a tragedy, which forced her to flee. She then found herself in Big Madam’s mansion in Lagos working without pay and beaten everyday.

Adunni is one unforgettable character. She is one of the many girls around the world who didn’t have the privilege to study and learn. She is one of the many child brides. Abi Daré incredibly gave life to Adunni’s voice. Adunni speaks broken English as the story started and I liked that the author wrote it this way and showed us how Adunni’s English progressively changed throughout the book. She eventually developed her English as she begins to study in secret.  Adunni later realized in the story that English is just a language like many others and that the ability to speak good English is not the measure of an intelligent mind.

I enjoyed this book so much. There were many parts in the story that were truly sad but I loved her character so much because although she faced a lot of trials and hardships, she refused to give up, she never once lost faith. She was always positive and hopeful that someday, she will be that girl with the louding voice.

Quotable Quotes:

“You must do good for other peoples, even if you are not well, even if the whole world around you is not well.”

“That day, I tell myself that even if I am not getting anything in this life, I will go to school. I will finish my primary and secondary and university schooling and become teacher because I don’t just want to be having any kind voice… I want a louding voice.”

“I want to tell her that God is not a cement building of stones and sand. That God is not for all that putting inside a house and locking Him there. I want her to know that the only way to know if a person find God and keep Him in their heart is to check how the person is treating other people, if he treats people like Jesus says–with love, patience, kindness, and forgiveness.”

“Who knows what else tomorrow will bring? So, I nod my head yes, because it is true, the future is always working, always busy unfolding better things, and even if it doesn’t seem so sometimes, we have hope of it.”

“When you get up every day, I want you to remind yourself that tomorrow will be better than today. That you are a person of value. That you are important.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

aboycalledChristmasPerhaps we all believed in Santa Claus once, specially so when we were kids. But before there was Santa Claus, there was a young boy named Nikolas who believed in the impossible and in magic.

Nikolas and his father were very poor. He is eleven years old and has only received two Christmas gifts: a turnip doll and a sleigh. He has no friends except for Miika the mouse. One day, a hunter came to their house and asked his father to join him and other men on a mission for the King. He was told that he will be rewarded well and they will be able to live a better life. So his father accepted the job and asked his sister, Aunt Carlotta, to take care of Nikolas during his absence. His father didn’t return according to what was planned so Nikolas started to worry. At the same time, Aunt Carlotta doesn’t treat him well and so he decided to run away with Miika and search for his father in the far North. And so begins his adventure.

This is my first read from Matt Haig and I loved his writing. I loved how he weaved a story about a young boy who despite being mistreated still finds a way to be kind and hopeful. A boy who discovers a new home and his destiny. I loved Nikolas’ character, very real and relatable, someone we know and recognize.

This is a book both children and adults can enjoy. It’s hilarious and at the same time very touching. Happy to recommend!

Merry Christmas, Homo sapiens!

Quotable Quotes:

“An impossibility is just a possibility you don’t understand yet.”

“To see something, you have to believe in it. Really believe it. That’s the first elf rule. You can’t see something you don’t believe in. Now try your hardest and see if you can see what you have been looking for.”

“To lose someone you love is the very worst thing in the world. It creates an invisible hole that you feel you are falling down and will never end. People you love make the world real and solid and when they suddenly go away forever, nothing feels solid any more.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

mexicangothicMexican Gothic is a Gothic horror novel set in Mexico some time in the 1950s. Noemi was sent by her father to High Place after receiving a letter from her cousin, Catalina, claiming someone is trying to poison/kill her and that something evil lurks in her husband’s family home. Not long after arriving to High Place, Noemi learned that everything Catalina wrote in her letter were true.

This started interesting for me albeit more on the slow side that I almost lost my enthusiasm to read further but given the hype and all, I decided to finish it.

I think the plot was compelling but the delivery was a bit flat and dry. Don’t get me wrong, there were indeed creepy, icky and interesting moments but it lacks that little something that would’ve made it a great read. The idea was remarkable alright, however, the characters were boring and the pacing was really slow even though the last pages were action-packed, it just wasn’t enough.

There were many parts of the book that I think the author could have elaborated to make the story more interesting like Marta, the healer. I would have loved it more if there was a backstory for her, at least. Or the town itself. A little bit more of gossip or superstition would’ve added to the Mexican feeling of the book. Also, I would have preferred a solid and reliable friendship than a romance between Noemi and Francis. I was actually more into Francis dying but of course, that’s just me. Ha!

All in all, it was still a good read and I am still looking forward to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other books.

Quotable Quotes:

“It was easy to kiss someone when it didn’t matter; it was more difficult when it might be meaningful.”

“The world might indeed be a cursed circle; the snake swallowed its tail and there could be no end, only an eternal ruination and endless devouring.”

“The future, she thought, could not be predicted, and the shape of things could not be divined. To think otherwise was absurd. But they were young that morning, and they could cling to hope. Hope that the world could be remade, kinder and sweeter.”

Rating: 3/5 stars

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

adancewithdragonsA Dance with Dragons is so far the last published book in the series of A Song of Ice and Fire. The sixth book, The Winds of Winter, is set to be released in 2021. I hope George R.R. Martin has something far, far better than the TV series.

I enjoyed this fifth book in the series a lot more than the fourth one because this reconnects me to my favorite characters once again but it’s abomination all the same. I don’t know why I still enjoy this series after the author has killed almost all of my favorite and other likeable characters. Ha! But I have to say that I’m also starting to like those characters whom I used to loathe before.

As I have said, I enjoyed this book but well, as usual, it’s too long and it was a bit slow-paced. It took a lot of meandering subplots but maybe GRRM needs to do that to prepare us for the next events in the series or probably for the ending. Just like the other books, it was written from different POVs and it annoys me every time it ends with a cliffhanger and moves on to another. Oh, George! However, the voice of the characters this time are way stronger than the previous books. The character development of some characters were quite notable, too. Jaime Lannister is strongly gaining my favor/admiration as he was the most changed character here, or, shall I say most misunderstood?

So, I have finished the first five books in the series. Still, the future of the seven kingdoms is uncertain. There’s Daenerys with her dragons in the east. Jon Snow in the North guarding the wall against the enemies beyond it. There are threats on every side of the seven kingdoms. Who will stop the wars? Who will stop the chaos? Who will rule the seven kingdoms? Will there be anyone left to rule at all?

I’m sad that I’m caught up for now and I don’t know for how much longer but well, I’ve got this far, right? I guess, the wait begins.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

“A man might befriend a wolf, even break a wolf, but no man could truly tame a wolf.”

“Not all men were meant to dance with dragons.”

“Men live their lives trapped in an eternal present, between the mists of memory and the sea of shadow that is all we know of the days to come.”

“Men’s lives have meaning, not their deaths.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon

whatthewindknowsWhat the Wind Knows is a perfect book to explain why I love reading. It’s always nice reading about parts of history I know very little or nothing about and with this book, I’ve learned a lot about Irish history. Add to that a stunning love story!

Going into this book blind, it came as a surprise that this is a historical fiction/romance having two narrators which made the events a lot more interesting and clearer given the two perspectives from the two main characters. Moreover, the history of Ireland woven into an unexpected and remarkable time travel.

Anne Gallagher, our main character, was raised by her grandfather, Eion, who taught her almost everything about the world except for one thing — where they came from. Eoin’s dying wish was for his ashes to be spread in Lough Gill where he himself was born and raised. Devastated and heartbroken for her grandfather’s death, Anne packed her things and flew to Ireland. She made several inquiries and soon found herself alone in a boat in Lough Gill and was swallowed by a thick fog, clueless which way to row. Moments later, a bigger boat came to sight with three men aboard and one of the men shot her and she fell in the water. She soon blacked out and the next thing she knows, a man she didn’t recognize was calling her name.

I know almost nothing about Ireland’s history and their fight for freedom back in the 1920s and this book was very informative and inspiring. It also gave me a chance to get close and get a glimpse of the people who lead Ireland to their freedom from England. Michael Collins seemed so real. In fact, the characters all seemed to come to life and I loved them. They were all captivating. I adored them all. Specially Thomas! I love this guy!

I was so delighted with Anne and Thomas’ love story and I loved that the author gave us both their perspectives on the same events. I’m not normally into time travel reads but this just works so perfectly for me.

This is my first book from Amy Harmon and this was quite an introduction to her works. She is a wonderful storyteller and she just became one of my favorite authors already. I can’t wait to read and explore more of her books.

I loved this book so much — history, romance and time travel all in one! I must say, this is one of the best love stories I have ever read. The many years of waiting, the heartbreak, oh, it’s all so worth the time reading this gem. This easily goes to my top favorites this year and in my heart for a long time. Great book! Highly recommended!

Quotable Quotes:

“But the wind and water know all the earth’s secrets. They’ve seen and heard all that has ever been said or done. And if you listen, they will tell you all the stories and sing every song. The stories of everyone who has ever lived. Millions and millions of lives. Millions and millions of stories.”

“We turn memories into stories, and if we don’t, we lose them. If the stories are gone, then the people are gone too.”

“If you can’t say them, write them. They last longer that way.”

“Tragedy makes for great stories, but I’d much rather your story–the one you live, not the ones you write–be filled with joy. Don’t revel in tragedy… Rejoice in love. And once you find it, don’t let it go.”

“Someone very wise told me that we keep the people we love in our hearts. We never lose them as long as we remember how it felt to be loved by them.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

mydarkvanessaMy Dark Vanessa was one of the books I’ve been curious about for some time because of the many 5-star ratings I’ve been seeing on my WP feeds as well as in Goodreads.

This is the dark and disturbing story of Vanessa Wry, who at 15 was abused by her 42-year-old teacher, Jacob Strane. The book is written in alternating chapters between Vanessa’s past and present life.

In as much as I want to like this book the way I was expecting to like it, I just couldn’t. This is a very important and note-worthy subject to read but I guess I was expecting to feel more like anger or something but many parts of the book just made me felt indifferent and bored. Moreover, I think that the story dragged too long and I didn’t find enough growth or character development from Vanessa. To be honest, I didn’t like her, I don’t feel for her at all. She was so naive to believe and trust everything Jacob tells her when it’s obviously full of crap.

Although I understand the importance of the hard subjects of this book, it didn’t turn out to be a great read for me. It was repetitive, vague and long with unnecessary fillers. I didn’t like a single character in the story as well. I do, however, acknowledge how the author showed how abuse affects young girls and how topics like this should be talked about more.

Quotable Quotes:

“People will risk everything for a little bit of something beautiful.”

“Sometimes it feels like that’s all I’m doing every time I reach out—trying to haunt, to drag him back in time, asking him to tell me again what happened. Make me understand it once and for all. Because I’m still stuck here. I can’t move on.”

“Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else’s mouth the word turns ugly and absolute. It swallows up everything that happened.”

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

thebookofnightwomenThe Book of Night Women is the story of a green-eyed girl named Lilith born in a Jamaican sugar plantation sometime in the 18th century where colonies are in transformation and maybe the worst time for slaves suffering from British cruelty.

To be quite honest, this book was hard to read. The dialect made it quite difficult to get through, I had to reread so many passages in order to understand but it was part of the story itself so it was worth all the reread and focus specially in the first 100 or so pages. Next, this book is so brutally honest, raw, real, compelling. The violence and inhumanity the slaves had to endure may it more difficult to read. It hurts to read about the brutality, cruelty and other horrifying things the slaves suffered from during those times.

I must admit, this book was slow but there was a moment where I got hooked and didn’t slow down anymore from there. It is a gripping story. Very informative, educational and thought-provoking read. It was beautifully written and my first from Marlon James. And I’m planning on reading another.

Quotable Quotes:

“Hate and love be closer cousin than like and dislike.”

“Bad feeling is a country no woman want to visit. So they take good feeling any which way it come. Sometime that good feeling come by taking on a different kind of bad feeling.”

“Make me tell you something else about reading. You see this? Every time you open this you get free. Freeness up in here and nobody even have to know you get free but you.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

littlewomenLittle Women has been on my shelves back home for like forever. I guess, it’s one of those classics that has always been there in the shelves even before I was born. It’s a shame that I only finally got to read it this year but hey, it’s better late than never!

This book has a very simple but realistic plot. There were four sisters who all have different views of life, different dreams and ambitions. Jo the feisty and most carefree and with whom I can relate very much, Beth who happens to be the saint of the family, Meg who wants to become rich and Amy, the youngest and a brat. So the story focuses on these four sisters and how they try to achieve their dreams by facing different challenges and learning the different virtues to live a good life.

I am very pleased to have finally read Little Women, though this made me long for a sister. It’s a very touching and heart-warming story packed with life’s lessons and how I wish I’ve read this when I was a kid. I enjoyed the book so much and I can fully understand now why it is considered a classic.

Quotable Quotes:

“I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.”

“I like good strong words that mean something…”

“Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest part of life, if for no other reason.”

“Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.”

“Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate such things, and though I think I’ve a right to be hurt, I don’t intend to show it.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

thundercakeThunder Cake is one of the many children’s books written by Patricia Polacco. I have read some of her works as a child but not this one. I actually just came across the title while reading Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

This is a cute book about a little girl afraid of thunder and how her grandmother, babushka, helped her overcome her fear by teaching her how to make a thunder cake. Oh! The power of distraction! 

Patricia Polacco writes stories from her childhood and it’s nice how every story can touch your heart. This was a wonderful story. I liked how the grandmother showed her granddaughter how brave she is and how brave she can be. It’s a very nice lesson to kids how to deal with things that they are afraid of by taking action.

The bonus? The thunder cake recipe is included and I should try it one of these days.

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

theconstantprincessThis is my first book from Philippa Gregory. I have been wanting to read her books as I’m very much interested with the life and history of the royals and this was really a good start.

The Constant Princess is the story of Catalina of Aragon, the Infanta of Spain, daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, raised to become the Princess of Wales and future Queen of England. She and Arthur, the Prince of Wales, married at a very young age but they truly loved each other. It was just very unfortunate that Arthur died just merely five months of marriage because of “sweating sickness.”

Catalina was then left with nothing and ignored by Arthur’s family but she stayed strong and tough and determined to take control of her life and soon married Arthur’s brother, Tudor King Henry VIII. Catalina prepared herself to become the queen of England all her life but found herself unprepared for the physical and emotional aspects her new life requires of her.

I personally found this book very interesting because I like and admire Katharine most among the wives/women of King Henry VIII. I admire how she was able to manipulate Henry in their early years of marriage as to how and what she thinks is best for England. All through her years of trials and hardships, it is indeed commendable how she remained constant with her desire to make England a better and stronger country and how constant she remained faithful to God.

This is a very good read where history comes alive.

Quotable Quotes:

“You have to have faith that you are doing God’s will. Sometimes you will not understand. Sometimes you will doubt. But if you are doing God’s will, you can’t be wrong, you can’t go wrong.”

“He may well speak French and Latin and half a dozen languages, but since he has nothing to say – what good are they?”

“Words have weight, something once said cannot be unsaid. Meaning is like a stone dropped into a pool; the ripples will spread and you cannot know what back they wash against.”

“God does not make the way smooth for those He loves. He sends hardships to try them. Those that God loves the best are those who suffer the worst.”

“Then life taught me a harder lesson, beloved: it is better to forgive an enemy than destroy him.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

thisisgoingtohurtThis is Going to Hurt is not the type of book I’d pick up in a bookstore even if it’s on sale. A non-fiction book written by an ex-doctor about things that happen in the medical field? It’s a no-no. But when a friend recommends a book to me, I am always inclined to check it out and I was pleasantly surprised with this one.

This was a funny, witty, entertaining, highly informative, humane and heartbreaking read. Adam Kay shared first-hand account of what pressures doctors face at work every single day as they  struggle to maintain healthy and happy lives with their families and friends.

I get to laugh out loud as I read about the author’s silly/ridiculous stories and wonder what on earth these patients were thinking? Until he revealed the episode in the final chapter why he decided to hang up the stethoscope in the end.

If you are curious about what it’s like to be starting a career as a doctor and how they progress in the public healthcare system, this book will not disappoint.

Quotable Quotes:

“It’s sink or swim and you have to learn how to swim because otherwise a ton of patients sink with you.”

“A great doctor must have a huge heart and a distended aorta through which pumps a vast lake of compassion and human kindness.”

“You work yourself to Exhaustion, pushing yourself beyond what could be reasonably expected from you and end up constantly feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing. Sometimes it just feels that way and you’re actually doing fine and sometimes you really don’t know.”

“From the most insignificant of actions can come the most serious of consequences.”

“The depth of the lows is the price you pay for the height of the highs.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

waywardson

Wayward Son is the sequel to one of my favorite reads, Carry On. It’s been several years ago since I’ve read it and I’m glad to finally get to this sequel a few months back.

As with Carry On, Wayward Son is written in multiple POVs. I liked the plot, sure, but I get more excited reading when it comes to Simon and Baz, of course. I love that I get to read more of their bantering because I’ve waited so long.

I was expecting this to give some closure or something to Carry On but it didn’t. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it. Probably this was just a transition book because there’s one more coming? I don’t know. But I’m sure more looking forward to how Simon and Baz’s relationship will evolve. You too guys, right?

Wayward Son is an enjoyable read but not as amazing as Carry On. But that shouldn’t stop you from reading it, well if you haven’t yet. The plot was just so-so for me but Simon and Baz’s POVs and never-ending bantering was everything. For that, I’m giving this book 4 stars.

Quotable Quotes:

“Sometimes Simon kisses me like it’s the end of the world, and I worry he might believe that it is.”

“I’ve loved him through worse. I’ve loved him hopelessly… So what’s a little less hope?”

“A relationship isn’t about the end. It’s about being together every step of the way.”

“Fighting doesn’t feel good anymore. It feels like breaking something because you don’t know how to fix it.”

“He’s coming into himself. And I’m coming apart.”

 

 

 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

onearthwerebrieflygorgeousThis is the kind of book that feels like a heart bleeding in pages. The kind of book that reminds me why I love reading.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is Little Dog’s letter to his illiterate mother. He tries to write what he could never say out loud. It’s a difficult read, there was pain and misery all throughout, in a way, it makes me doubt this is a work of fiction. But given the kind of life he had in the story, it just couldn’t be.

Little Dog is the son and grandson of disaster. Both his mother and grandmother are mentally unstable who survived the Vietnam War. We get to read in Little Dog’s letter a wide variety of themes including violence in the family, addiction, sexual preference, identity, race, immigrants, war and more. It was brutal. It was devastating. It was beautiful. It felt so real.

This is my first book from Ocean Vuong and one of my best reads so far this year. Surely, this will definitely be not the last work I’ll read from this talented writer/poet.

Quotable Quotes:

“I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasn’t trying to make a sentence—I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.”

“They say nothing lasts forever but they’re just scared it will last longer
than they can love it.”

“I miss you more than I remember you.”

“We try to preserve life—even when we know it has no chance of
enduring its body. We feed it, keep it comfortable, bathe it, medicate it,
caress it, even sing to it. We tend to these basic functions not because
we are brave or selfless but because, like breath, it is the most
fundamental act of our species: to sustain the body until time leaves it
behind.”

“To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be
hunted.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple

cityofdjinnsIf you want to read about India, or more specifically Delhi, I happily recommend City of Djinns.

The book tells about about the author’s one year stay, as well as what he has learned, while in New Delhi in the 1980s. He talked about how kind people in Delhi were, different cities, his funny landlady, Mrs. Puri, Hinglish, Anglo-Indians, the partition, the scorching heat he experienced there, horoscopes, architecture, a Hindu wedding and so much about India’s culture and history.

This is my first attempt to William Dalrymple’s works and I must say, I am impressed. He’s a brilliant observer and he can very much entertain readers with his writing. I very much admire the work he’s done with this book. Wonderful.

This book can be a travel guide when I visit India someday. One of my finest reads this year.

Quotable Quotes:

“Partition was a total catastrophe for Delhi,’ she said. ‘Those who were left behind are in misery. Those who were uprooted are in misery. The Peace of Delhi is gone. Now it is all gone.”

“Whoever has built a new city in Delhi has always lost it: the Pandava brethren, Prithviraj Chauhan, Feroz Shah Tughluk, Shah Jehan … They all built new cities and they all lost them. We were no exception.”

“For all its faults we love this city.’ Then, after a pause, she added: ‘After all, we built it.”

“And it would be nice if the roof was a bit stronger. Then the peacocks wouldn’t keep falling through. I don’t mind during the day, but I hate waking up at night to find a peacock in bed with me.”

“When a dust storm blows it means the djinns are going to celebrate a marriage …”

Rating: 5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story – The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

thecaskofamontilladoThe Cask of Amontillado is a gothic short story written by Edgar Allan Poe. He was one of my favorite authors growing up. I just love the way he writes.

The story is direct to the point. Montressor, the narrator was insulted by Fortunato and so he vows for revenge. It seems normal at first but as the story progresses, it gets darker.

We never really got to learn Montressor’s purpose/reason for carrying out the revenge on Fortunato but maybe that’s not really the point in the story. Well, I dunno.

What I know is that Fortunato was buried behind a wall and  Edgar Allan Poe knows revenge at its worst and moreover, a mystery is yet to be solved.

Quotable Quotes:

“A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”

“It must be understood, that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will.”

“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

 

The Cake Tree in the Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka

thecaketreeintheruinsThe Cake Tree in the Ruins is an incredible collection of short stories all set on August 15,1945, the day Japan surrendered to the Allies in World War II.

Some of the themes tackled are war and its effects, survival, loss, love and kindness in the most difficult situations. Several of the stories highlight on how useless wars are and its effects on common/ordinary people who are the actual victims.

Most of the stories are extremely sad and heartbreaking and The Whale Who Fell In Love With the Submarine is my favorite, a beautifully tragic story.

This is my first venture on Akiyuki Nosaka’s works and he definitely has my heart. This collection is haunting and superb and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Quotable Quotes:

“He was waiting for his mother who was sure to come back from the sky — the mother who had soared up into the sky like a kite blown by the wind.”

“Too many undernourished people and animals appear in these stories, I know, but it was wartime, after all.”

“On 15th August in the cloudless blue sky evening sky a single giant balloon left Japan and rode the jet stream headed for America. It carried no bomb… and unable to land is probably still floating around somewhere filled with the breath of school children.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

 

 

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

bridgetoterabithiaBridge to Terabithia is a touching and heartbreaking story with themes that include imagination, friendship, family and grief. Jesse is shy and quiet but has amazing artistic skills and Leslie is the new girl in town who beat the boys in running. Soon, they became best friends and built their secret imaginary kingdom of Terabithia.

It’s a beautiful story of friendship between these two lonely children until one day, tragedy happens. And the story tells of how to cope and come into terms with what happened. This will really touch you on so many levels. It is an engaging and memorable book with relatable characters. Children who think and talk realistically and in a very honest way.

I love books that break my heart and this was one of them. I hate it but I love it.

Quotable Quotes:

“Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.”

“You think it’s so great to die and make everyone cry and carry on. Well it ain’t.”

“He may not have been born with guts, but he didn’t have to die without them.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

thesilentpatientAlicia Berenson was a famous artist and married to a well-known photographer, Gabriel. She shot her husband and never spoke a word ever again. She was later confined in a psychiatric facility where Theo, an ambitious psychotherapist and obsessed with Alicia and her story, tried his best to get in.

This is a clever story. It grabbed my attention from the start as I was intrigued with what’s going on. I started formulating theories in my mind while reading and some came real close. But that twist, I seriously did not see coming at all.

As I write this now, I’ve realized the writing was good but I can’t really say it was amazing. The characters were not that appealing and even the plot was a little bit unlikely. However, it all worked together beautifully.

Alex Michaelides did a good job on this debut and he now belongs to my radar of authors to watch for.

Quotable Quotes:

“You know, one of the hardest things to admit is that we weren’t loved when we needed it most. It’s a terrible feeling, the pain of not being loved.”

“…we often mistake love for fireworks – for drama and dysfunction. But real love is very quiet, very still. It’s boring, if seen from the perspective of high drama. Love is deep and calm – and constant.”

“Remember, love that doesn’t include honesty doesn’t deserve to be called love.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Circe by Madeline Miller

circeIf you are into mythology, well even if you aren’t actually, you should read this book.

This is the first book I’ve read written by Madeline Miller and it’s surprisingly good. I loved her writing style as well as the character developments. The story was also packed with myths, gods and goddesses and it was fun to come across familiar names.

I haven’t heard much about Circe herself actually apart from her being a witch and turning men to pigs. Madeline Miller did a great job giving life to Circe’s character. She also was able to write the story like as if Circe was telling the story herself. I liked the way she grew and developed throughout the book and the ending was indeed meaningful.

Highly engaging, enjoyable and wonderful read.

Quotable Quotes:

“Beneath the smooth, familiar face of things is another that waits to tear the world in two.”

“I had no right to claim him, I knew it. But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

“I would say, some people are like constellations that only touch the earth for a season.”

“You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

thetravellingcatchronicles

I was not suppose to read this book because I don’t like cats. But it’s a book written by Hiro Arikawa, a Japanese author whose works I haven’t ventured on yet so I thought it’s unfair not to give it a try after seeing lots of good reviews about it and just because I don’t like cats. Plus, it was translated by Philip Gabriel so I know the translation would be a good one.

So… Nana was a stray cat and was soon taken in by a kind-hearted guy named Satoru after he found it injured by a car. They lived together for years until one day, Satoru can no longer take care of Nana so they found themselves traveling together to find a new home for her. They visited several of Satoru’s friends and slowly Satoru’s story unfolds. The more they travel, the more their love for each other grew.

Well, there’s not much of a plot here and the writing was slow for my taste but simple and engaging which I like. I love Satoru and Nana and cared enough what will happen to them so it was okay that the story went a bit slow for me.

This is a beautiful story of friendship, companionship, love and kindness. The part towards the end of the book was quite lovely. Tissues required while reading.

Quotable Quotes:

“My story will be over soon. But it’s not something to be sad about. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.”

“If you have to consider what’s going to happen after you die, life becomes doubly troublesome.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

thestoryofmylifeThis is Helen Keller’s autobiography written while she was attending Radcliffe College. Despite being blind and deaf, she was very lucky to get proper education and use what she learned to help others in the same situation as hers. This is also a tribute to her teacher, Anne Sullivan, who was very devoted to her and made such a big difference in her life.

Since she wrote this book while still attending college, I would like to read more about her later life and somehow know more about her as a person. I’m afraid I didn’t really get that from this book. I would also probably read something about her through another’s viewpoint, say Anne Sullivan’s for example, who contributed greatly to what she has become.

I’m giving this book 3-stars for its inspiring and interesting story though the second part of the book was a bit redundant. I’m giving 5-stars to Helen Keller for her passion, her commitment and eagerness to learn and for her achievements.

Quotable Quotes:

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

“I wonder what becomes of lost opportunities? Perhaps our guardian angel gathers them up as we drop them, and will give them back to us in the beautiful sometime when we have grown wiser, and learned how to use them rightly.”

“Trying to write is very much like trying to put a Chinese puzzle together. We have a pattern in mind which we wish to work out in words; but the words will not fit the spaces, or, if they do, they will not match the design.”

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

thelastlectureRandy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh where his areas of expertise were computer science and virtual reality. He worked for Disney as an Imagineer. He died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 47.

Overall, the book is inspiring though not mind-blowing. The wisdom within this book makes it an important book to read. It is indeed a good lecture for him to leave to his children and to inspire many others.

While I enjoyed Randy Pausch’s positive attitude during the most difficult time of his life, I also felt that the book was a lot more about him proving how great he and his life had been. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead and I will probably burn in hell to say this but he appeared to be cocky, arrogant and so full of himself. Death is always a tragedy but his was a fairytale having been able to bid goodbye to everyone he loves and leaving a mark in the world. I personally think he should have hired a writer to assist him in writing this book, maybe it would touch more hearts and won’t sound or appear the way it did.

Nevertheless, you’d still have to admire Randy.

Quotable Quotes:

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”

“Find the best in everybody. Just keep waiting no matter how long it takes. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting, it will come out.”

Rating: 3/5 stars

 

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I have now read all three of Gillian Flynn’s books and sometimes I can’t help but wonder what happened to her while growing up? 🙂 She’s probably the master of dark mysteries.

So in Dark Places, when Libby Day was seven years old, her mother and two sisters were murdered and his brother, Ben Day, was blamed for killing them and so he was jailed and sentenced to life imprisonment. More than twenty years later, Libby will reconnect with the people involved that night the murders happened.

Gillian Flynn is definitely a very talented writer and she knows very well how to create tortured souls and crazy women. The opening sentence in the book hooked me right away:

“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.”

Then not far from it comes this:

“I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs.”

Ms. Flynn is one of my favorite authors/writers since I’ve read Gone Girl. All of her novels are great and quite dark in different ways but I really enjoy them and in Dark Places I liked how the uncertainty of it made the story and characters turned out so well.

So for people looking for dark themes — lies, secrets, devil worship, desperation — read this. And all of Gillian Flynn’s books. You will never be disappointed.

Favorite quotes:

“The truly frightening flaw in humanity is our capacity for cruelty – we all have it.”

“Worries find you easily enough without inviting them.”

“It’s a good enough life for me… can’t imagine wanting anything different.”

“I appreciate a straightforward apology the way a tone-deaf person enjoys a fine piece of music.”

“There were a lot of people who deserved a lesson, deserved to really understand, that nothing came easy, that most things were going to go sour.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The first time I started reading Station Eleven, I closed and returned it back to my shelf when I reached page 3. I tried it again a few days back and I’m glad I persisted.


The story loops around the past and the present and then back again. The very skillful plotting of Station Eleven gave way to knowing each character more and what the characters think of the others. It’s how these characters are related that made this book really interesting for me (and no zombie in sight!). Their stories fit together perfectly and it’s really fascinating to see them all fall into place.

This is an amazing read that I finished it asking myself do people ever realize life while they live it? Hmmm…

Station Eleven may have started in darkness but it ended with a beam of hope.

Favorite quotes:

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”

“Survival is insufficient.”

“The more you remember, the more you’ve lost.”

“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”

“The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?”

Rating : 5/5 stars

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

This novel spans the 80-year life of Rachel Kalama, who was born in Honolulu where when she was seven, she was taken away from her family and lived most of her life in involuntary exile on Moloka’i as a leper. In this island where lives are supposed to end, Rachel’s life begins.

molokai

I enjoyed Rachel’s character and everyone else’s in this book. Rachel refuses to let her condition get in the way of a life well-lived. Seeing her grow up with leprosy along with her new-found family and friends made it an interesting read though I teared up here and there.

Alan Brennert evidently researched quite well since a lot of historical facts intertwines with the story which gave me a snapshot of Hawaii in the past.

Given its rich history and well-developed characters, this story will stay with me for a long time.

Favorite quotes: “There’s only one disadvantage, really, to having two mothers… You know twice the love… but you grieve twice as much.”

“With wonder and a growing absence of fear she realized, I am more than I was an hour ago.”

“But there was still a bottomless hole inside her, and she began to think that there always would be.”

“I’ve come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, or injustice, or death….is the true measure of the Divine within us.”

“Fear is good. In the right degree it prevents us from making fools of ourselves. But in the wrong measure it prevents us from fully living. Fear is our boon companion but never our master.”

Rating : 5/5 stars