Any Human Heart by William Boyd

If you’ve never read a William Boyd novel, this is a good one to start with.

anyhumanheart

Any Human Heart is a fictionalized journal of a fictional character, Logan Mountstuart. It is a story of a life well-lived and a journey deep into a very human heart. The book is easy to read, the chapters weren’t too long, it is powerful, realistic and a beautiful story.  Logan is generous, smart, naïve and selfish which makes him so real and interesting. And like any human journeys, his life has its own ups and downs, accidents, coincidences, tragedies and triumphs.

Aging is also addressed in this book in which there are moments where it is absolutely depressing, you see Logan at his worst. But there are also moments where you’ll see how aging made him wiser. He was never envious of youth.

William Boyd was able to make it like everything is true and that it is indeed from a dead man’s journal. I don’t know if others will agree but this is such an amazing novel where it’s hard to believe that Logan Mountstuart never existed.

And in the end, we get to ask ourselves, “What defines success?” “What is a life well-lived?” Logan reassures us that, “Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary – it is the respective proportion of those two categories that make that life appear interesting or humdrum.”

Quotable Quotes:

“I have to start my real life soon, before I die of boredom and frustration.”

“It’s true: lives do drift apart for no obvious reason. We’re all busy people,we can’t spend our time simply trying to stay in touch. The test of a friendship is if it can weather these inevitable gaps.”

“I felt shocked and then saddened. life does this to you sometimes – leads you up a path and then drops you in the shit, to mix a metaphor.”

Rating : 5/5 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

Silence by Shūsaku Endō

downloadSilence is set during the early years of Christianity in Japan and the story revolves around Father Sebastian Rodrigues who sets off with two other fellow priests after hearing news that his mentor Father Ferreira apostatized. No one knew for sure whether Father Ferreira is still alive and no one can confirm if the news/rumors about him renouncing his faith were true. Rodrigues embarks on a journey that may cost him his life. Sounds like an adventure given that as a gist of the story, right? However, it takes a different scenario focusing on Rodrigues’ faith, feelings and conscience.

The story started too slow for my taste, to be honest, I wouldn’t have continued reading if I had another book with me at the time. It’s a novel about faith and one’s personal view of God and leans heavily on Catholic theology specially for the first part of the book.

The main issue is, as the title suggests, silence. We see very terrible things happening around us and if you believe there’s a God, at some point, it makes you ask why doesn’t He intervene, why doesn’t He do something, why does He allow evil things to happen? Does God see us in our breaking points? God himself said, “pray and I will hear you and that I will love you and comfort you.” But then, silence is all there is. The first words in Silence were the first words I’ve read from Shusaku Endo, I have never read anything by him before. But it kinda felt a bit odd though to find out that he is a Catholic, thus, he ought to understand the nature of their faith. I mean, it would make faith meaningless if God is a vocal God. Isn’t that what’s powerful about faith? That it exists without a conclusive proof of God’s existence?

Anyway, God was silent to the end of the book. Rodrigues has to choose between renouncing his faith and save the Christians from being tortured or refuse to apostatize and see more Christians die from torture. I have mixed feelings about the ending maybe because I was expecting the story to end in martyrdom which is actually one of the main issues raised in the book about Christian missions and yet, Father Rodrigues apostatized. Be that as it may, Shusaku Endo was somehow able to reflect man’s thoughts in the face of adversity.

A character who matters a great deal though is Kichijiro who represents Christianity’s greatest villain, Judas. A Japanese “Gollum.” A weakling. He comes and goes throughout the book but in his character is something we can find uncomfortably real. The relationship between Kichijiro and Father Rodrigues makes us understand about the latter’s torment.

I’ve read reviews a few minutes before purchasing this book but I’m left slightly disappointed. I felt I’ve read a different book. I was raised a Christian but no longer share the faith so maybe that’s why I couldn’t really warm up to the main conflict of the story, but still, this book may appeal to many with regards to the juxtaposition it depicts, culture, the pitiful characters and their unanswered prayers and the tough what if questions people are perhaps afraid to address because it could lead them, or not, to conclude that there probably is no God.

I’m interested to watch the movie adaptation though. Have you guys seen it? Would you recommend me watching it? Please share your thoughts.

Quotable Quotes:

“Man is a strange being. He always has a feeling somewhere in his heart that whatever the danger he will pull through. It’s just like when on a rainy day you imagine the faint rays of the sun shining on a distant hill.”

“Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.”

“It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.”

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

A Reread: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerI’ve loved this book ever since I’ve read it in 2013. It’s one of the books that really left something in me. One of the very few that emotionally drained me. I watched the film adaptation and for those of you who have been following me for some time now, I’m not a big fan of movies based on books, so of course, I was disappointed. The only thing I liked in the movie was the boy who played the role of Hassan. Hassan has always been one of the top book characters very dear to me since I’ve read this and he’s the only thing that didn’t disappoint in the movie.

I’ve decided to reread this a few days before Christmas. I knew that the book is gonna make me sad and might affect my mood for the holidays, but I read it anyway.

The Kite Runner is the story of Amir and Hassan while growing up in Kabul in the early 1970s. Amir, a Sunni, is the son of a wealthy businessman (Amir calls him Baba) while Hassan, a Shia, is the son of Ali, their Hazara servant. The two boys are best friends but cultural and social barriers still separate them. Baba treats them equally as much as he could. Amir started to feel jealous of Hassan as Baba always admires him and always catches his attention without even trying while Amir on the other hand is trying too hard to impress him but Baba always gets disappointed.

Amir decided to impress Baba in the coming annual kite-flying/fighting tournament. This is where the story really started. My heart broke for Hassan the first time I’ve read this. And it still did the second time. And if I continue writing about it, I might delve into spoilers even though maybe most of you must have read the book already.

This is a book about friendship, father and son, brotherhood, relationships, jealousy, guilt, redemption, love, trust, freedom, forgiveness and mistakes. Mistakes we either make or make us.

Khaled Hosseini used a very descriptive and simple writing style. The way and the amount of historical background he provided in the book was good enough so as not to overwhelm the reader. I liked how the story was told as it made me get attached to the characters which is one of the important things to me when I read a book.

I was once again blown away by The Kite Runner and this will definitely stay on top of my favorite books, quietly seeping into my being.

Quotable Quotes:

“For you, a thousand times over.”

“And that’s the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does, too.”

“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”

“It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make ANYTHING all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.”

“When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

A Reread: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

downloadBook #25.

By large, endings are sad, aren’t they? Or bittersweet perhaps? It could give us tremendous relief, too, as is the case in The Sense of an Ending.

This little treasure of a book is the story of the unremarkable life of Anthony Webster as he recollects and confronts the past after receiving a solicitor’s letter, the reappearance of an ex-girlfriend and reading a few pages of his old friend’s diary. This is best read in one sitting preferably with a few shots of whisky. 🙂

It has two finely controlled parts: 1) sheer nostalgia and 2) the coming together of memories from years ago as it unfolds different interpretations to clarify the truth. It’s mainly about the unreliability of memory and dealing with the past, remembering events and our understanding of time, with a touch of history, death and loss.

Little by little, the book reveals the secrets hidden in buried memories as Tony tries to remember and face up to the actions of his younger self and live through the mystery of the last forty years. Tony is a very engaging narrator. He definitely kept me reading regardless of him being reliable or not. Though this is already my second reading, I am still perplexed by the ending and just like Tony, “I just don’t get it,” really. I still had to go back to a few pages and reread over and over looking for clues I must have missed to give me a better understanding of the ending and answers to the many hows and whys it left me.

This is a very simple story on the surface but with delicate undertones written in a very interesting way. It is short, deep, thought-provoking, luminous, readable and very re-readable book. No wonder it was awarded the Man Booker Prize. I believe it’s never too late to learn. It’s never too late to learn and understand ourselves and other people. You might not be someone you thought you were yesterday. What we believe about other people then may possibly be different, too. How these things can change overtime as we try to understand people/things based on our memory of them and the history that goes with it is truly something to reflect upon and could very well give us a sense of an ending.

Quotable Quotes:

“Songs do occasionally tell the truth.”

“Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“The less time there remains in your life, the less you want to waste it.”

“Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure.”

“…what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

danceBook #16.

Our nameless narrator from A Wild Sheep Chase is back once again in this book as he starts to feel nostalgic about the Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo where seemingly good things happened to him. Something from within him strongly urged him to have a vacation and visit the place again. On this trip starts a series of strange events.

Interestingly, the characters have names now, except for the narrator. 🙂 Most of the characters have a mysterious side in them. Kiki, who just disappeared. Gotanda, our narrator’s former classmate whom I felt like hiding something since the beginning but was an interesting character for me. Yuki, a thirteen-year-old psychic. (I really liked Yuki and the narrator’s bantering. Pretty much a comedy!) Yumiyoshi, the receptionist in the new Dolphin Hotel. The Sheep Man. And several others.

Dance Dance Dance addressed a lot of themes such as aging, death (a very common theme in Murakami’s books), life’s meaning, illusion, reality, boredom, the importance of human connection, etc. These are themes more inclined to the heavy side but still there are also moments that will make you smile and laugh.

Typical of Murakami’s works as well are the loose ends that he leaves us with. And for me, I am still left contemplating about who the sixth skeleton is. That scene where he was driving in Hawaii with Yuki and he suddenly saw Kiki and he soon came running after her and was led to a room with six skeletons. I can account to five but who’s the sixth? Is it the Sheep Man because he’s gone from the mysterious room of the Dolphin Hotel? Or is it the narrator himself? Anyhow, it’s sort of a happy ending.

Murakami is such a brilliant writer that he always, always makes me doubt which of these things happened and which did not. In any case, this was another surreal ride but for the meantime, I will have to take a break before I start dreaming about the skeletons or the Sheep Man…

Quotable Quotes :

“People have their own reasons for dying. It might look simple, but it never is. It’s just like a root. What’s above ground is only a small part of it. But if you start pulling, it keeps coming and coming. The human mind dwells deep in darkness. Only the person himself knows the real reason, and maybe not even then.”

“People fall in love without reason, without even wanting to. You can’t predict it. That’s love.”

“Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely.”

“Friends don’t need the intervention of a third party. Friendship’s a voluntary thing.”

“People leave traces of themselves where they feel most comfortable, most worthwhile.”

Rating ; 4/5 stars

All the Ugly and Beautiful Things by Bryn Greenwood

download

Book #4.

I am a big fan of relationships between unlikely people and this book captured my attention from the beginning and saw me through to the very last page.

Wavonna “Wavy” Quinn is the daughter of a meth dealer and she knows that she shouldn’t trust anybody even her parents. She is selectively mute and acts as a parent to her younger brother, Donal, even at a very young age. She struggles but she is very responsible. Several times while reading, my heart ached for Wavy and her brother for they never had the chance of a normal childhood. And then came Kellen. And everything changed from there.

I personally think that the book is beautifully written. The alternating viewpoints is one of the things I like most about this read for it seems to be so effortless for Ms. Greenwood because it did not, in any way, disrupt the flow of the story. It’s also for this reason that I’m looking forward to more of her works.

On the other hand, I am not sure I can recommend this book to everyone even though it’s beautifully-written. Several themes here would require a mature mind I guess to appreciate the book as a whole. However, it will make you pause and reconsider and somehow for me, I was left asking when is love appropriate then? And how?

Quotable Quotes :

“Feeling dead was better than when my heart hurt. Sometimes I thought it might burn through my ribs while I was asleep, and smolder in the sheets until the whole house caught fire.”

“Sometimes waiting and being disappointed was good, to remind me he didn’t belong to me. Nothing belonged to me.”

“He squeezed me tight, almost as tight as I needed… Tight enough to tell me I was important to him. A little tighter and I would know I was more important than anything else. That was what I wanted.”

“I liked learning things. How numbers worked together to explain the stars. How molecules made the world. All the ugly and wonderful things people had done in the last two thousand years.”

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

Book #52 – 2015 Reading Challenge – Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

The perfect read to end my 2015 Reading Challenge! Book #52…

 If you don’t have any idea about the Palestine-Israeli conflict, this book offers an excellent introduction about it and about the suffering of the people of Palestine.

1947 — the year that was — for the Jewish, the creation of their homeland, the state of Israel; for the Palestinians, the year their land was taken from them, the year they became refugees.

This is such a powerful story about the sufferings of the Palestinians in the hands of the Israelis that will leave you raging with emotions that I have to keep reminding myself that it was a work of fiction (though most happenings were based on facts).

A beautifully written book that gave me a different view about the Palestinian people and everything they have lost. It’s one of the most heart-breaking books I’ve ever read, I recommend it to everyone.

What a perfect read to complete my 2015 Reading Challenge! 🙂

Favorite quotes : ““Always” was a good word to believe in.”

“He brushed his lips against mine, pulled me closer, and I felt as if I had lived all my life for that kiss.”

“I was a word drained of its meaning. A woman emptied of her past. The truth is that I wanted to be someone else.”

“Baba’s absence since the war had grown as big as the ocean and all its fishes. As big as the sky and earth and all their birds and trees. The hurt in my heart was as big as the universe and all its planets.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

Book # 48 – 2015 Reading Challenge – Stoner by John Williams

Another book that will stay with me for a long time… Book #48 for my 2015 Reading Challenge…

Stoner is a book that has nothing to do with marijuana or a drug addict. 🙂 It is actually the name of the book’s protagonist. 🙂

On the surface, it looks like a very simple tale. However, the simplicity of it masks the depth and brilliance that runs throughout the story. I personally enjoy books with real, believable characters and situations and this is certainly one of them. I can’t express well why I found this to be such a page-turner because it lacks that “excitement” most people look for in a book nowadays, but it is so deep, significant and captivating.

Being one of the finest books I’ve ever read, I hope you readers can get a chance to read it as well. It’s not that big, life-changing kind of book but it might be a good reminder to everyone that people are important and that your contribution to the world doesn’t have to be something huge, it just have to be relevant and meaningful.

Favorite quotes :

“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”

“…the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.”

“You must remember what you are and what you have chosen to become, and the significance of what you are doing. There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history. Remember that while you’re trying to decide what to do.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

Book #44 – 2015 Reading Challenge – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Life is what you make of it and Book #44 in my 2015 Reading Challenge made me realize to start making more of mine…

This book really hits you in the heart. Total tearjerker. It’s an amazing story about life and death and love and everything in between. It made me laugh but it also made me cry.

Will Traynor (Oh, Will!!!) and Lou Clark are very likable characters, unlikely but interesting pair brought together by circumstance. I really enjoyed how their relationship changed and grew because it’s very realistic.

The controversial issue of euthanasia was very carefully dealt with by Ms. Moyes in this novel. I already had an opinion about this topic even before I knew about this book and that still hasn’t changed. I strongly believe that a person with a fatal illness/disease or something like Will’s has the right to choose to die in their own terms. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m entitled to my own opinion, let me know yours in the comment section. I’d love to hear them.) It was very dramatic how Ms. Moyes presented this issue up to the later part of this book, making Lou look for every possible way to let Will change his mind, keeping her hopeful and letting her be more attached to him. Little does she know that Will had firmly made his decision.

This story will definitely stay with me for a long time and continue to reflect/contemplate about it. I don’t know how it’s like to live a life being once a man-of-the-world suddenly turned into a quadriplegic where you have to live the rest of your life in a wheelchair but somehow, the author managed to make us feel that while reading this book. It leaves me with sadness but inspires me to step back a little and have a look at my own life.

If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor… Read —  and feel it — because sometimes, six months can be the best six months of your life.

Favorite quotes : “Push yourself. Don’t Settle. Just live well. Just LIVE.”

“Some mistakes… Just have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let the result of one mistake be the thing that defines you. You, Clark, have the choice not to let that happen.”

“…I told him a story of two people. Two people who shouldn’t have met, and who didn’t like each other much when they did, but who found they were the only two people in the world who could possibly have understood each other.”

“The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life — or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else’s life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window — is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are. Or how you might seem to other people.”

“I am conscious that knowing me has caused you pain, and grief, and I hope that one day when you are less angry with me and less upset you will see not just that I could only have done the thing that I did, but also that this will help you live a really good life, a better life, than if you hadn’t met me.”

Rating : 5/5 heartbreakingly beautiful stars

Book #43 – 2015 Reading Challenge – Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Book #43 for my 2015 Reading Challenge is this wonderful piece of historical fiction.

A beautiful story about trust, faith, friendship, relationships, change, survival, love, second chances, etc.

I never heard of orphan trains until I saw it on Goodreads. Apparently, about 200,000 homeless children from crowded cities in the US were put on these trains to find new families in the West. These children are then paraded in every train stops where people who are willing to adopt can check and question them. Those selected children will go with their new foster parents right then and there as soon as the paper works are done. Those who weren’t lucky enough to be chosen will re-board the train and try their “luck” in the next stop. Vivian, an Irish immigrant, was one of those children.

In this fictional tale, Vivian at 91, forms an unlikely friendship with Molly who is several decades younger than her. Their stories are interwoven together and thus came this beautiful book.

The writing was simple and the dual storyline was well-applied. It certainly kept my interest from start to finish. (And I love the book cover!)

Favorite quotes : “I am not glad she is dead, but I am not sorry she is gone.”

“You got to learn to take what people are willing to give.”

“I like the assumption that everyone is trying his best, and we should all just be kind to each other.”

“I learned long ago that loss is not only probable but inevitable. I know what it means to lose everything, to let go of one life and find another. And now I feel, with a strange, deep certainty, that it must be my lot in life to be taught that lesson over and over again.”

“So is it just human nature to believe that things happen for a reason – to find some shred of meaning even in the worst experiences?”

Rating : 5/5 stars

Book #38 – 2015 Reading Challenge – The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is my first Neil Gaiman book so I didn’t know what to expect. I loved it nonetheless! neil gaiman

The story began when the unnamed narrator revisited his childhood home for a funeral and was drawn back to a farm where he met his one true friend and experienced a magical and haunting event when he was seven years old.

Not every child probably did this but when I was young, I like to imagine things differently from what they really are. I like thinking about them in a weird way that sometimes my memory get mixed up from what’s real and what’s not. The book somewhat depicts that. That sometimes, things are different from what we remember them to be.

Although this isn’t typically the kind of book I usually seek out to read, this made me smile. But it made me sad, too. It gave me something to think about. It even made my heart ache. So I think that’s enough reason to recommend this book and read more of Neil Gaiman’s works.

Favorite quotes : “I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”

“You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.”

“I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”

Rating : 5/5 stars