Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer is a beautifully written and well thought of book. Its narrative was brilliantly constructed such that I was able to empathise with the characters, both main and secondary, as the story progressed. And, this is the first time where I truly felt that there is no real villain in the story; rather, I see all the competing forces as a result of the past – as if all the characters are victims of monsters and horrors of the past. As tidbits of information slowly unfold in the narrative, actions and mentality of the characters felt more realistic and reasonable. There is so much pain in it (in various forms), it bounces off the pages.

But of course, there was hope. That hope is in the form of Lazlo Strange with the help of Sarai. Lazlo is such a lovable character. I am unsure what superlative to use but suffice to say he is now on my list of favorite male characters in any book I have read. The first few chapters were enough for me to relate to him.

Lazlo owned nothing, not one single thing, but from the first, the stories felt like his own hoard of gold.

He believed in magic, like a child, and in ghosts, like a peasant. His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales his first day on the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange: head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy.

He was like a caged bird waiting for his moment to fly.

These visions of freedom and plenty bewitched him. Certainly, they distracted from spiritual contemplation, but in the same way that the sight of a shooting star distracts from the ache of an empty belly. They marked his first consideration that there might be other ways of living than the one he knew. Better, sweeter ways.

Throughout the book, I could not really help but wish him well… and I was happy and inspired when he really took the initiative to be part of his dreams even if the odds or the situation were against him. The wisdom from his head Librarian spoke volumes and I am glad Lazlo was able to find the courage to really speak up when it mattered.

“Do you want to end your days a half-blind troglodyte hobbling through the bowels of the library?” the old man demanded. “Get out of doors, Strange. Breathe air, see things. A man should have squint lines from looking at the horizon, not just from reading in dim light.”

“Life won’t just happen to you, boy,” he said. “You have to happen to it. Remember: The spirit grows sluggish when you neglect the passions.”

I am trying my best to not include spoilers. So, to put it simply, Lazlo’s growth throughout the book, including the people he meets along the way – Sarai, Erik-Fane, Azareen, etc -, produced a very heartwarming story.

My favorite scene remains Lazlo and Sarai’s dreamworld sequence, which is best read to fully appreciate how beautifully written and magical it was.

Honestly, I am curious how the 2nd book would go. But as it is, this was an amazing read. The words were able to capture the emotions – pain, happiness, sadness, longing – and magic of the various moments and experiences. The setting was also something new, which was a good exercise for the imagination. I would gladly read this again.

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They Both Die at the End

In an alternate reality where you get a call on the day you are about to die… how would you spend your last day? Who do you spend it with?
…this book told the story of how Rufus and Mateo spent theirs.

This book had the same structure with one of the books I read this year (The Sun is also a Star), which was an alternating point of view between the two leads sprinkled with point of view from some of the characters they have or will encounter along the narrative. It also had the same timeframe, which is just one day. Both leads were also strangers to each other prior to this one day.

But, the stories were definitely different. In this book, Rufus and Mateo will die at the end, that is pretty much set. This element, in itself, added a lot of interesting points to tackle. There is an interesting mix of realizations throughout the book cognizant of the suddent finiteness of the time they have to keep living.

About goodbyes –

goodbyes are “the most possible impossible” ’cause you never wanna say them, but you’d be stupid not to when given the shot.

About our stories –

He once told me that stories can make someone immortal as long as someone else is willing to listen.

About doing good things –

“This isn’t about karma. I’m not trying to rack up I’m-a-Good-Person points.” You shouldn’t donate to charity, help the elderly cross the street, or rescue puppies in the hopes you’ll be repaid later. I may not be able to cure cancer or end world hunger, but small kindnesses go a long way. Not that I’m saying any of this to Rufus, since all my classmates used to mock me for saying things like that, and no one should feel bad for trying to be good.

About fear –

Yes, we live, or we’re given the chance to, at least, but sometimes living is hard and complicated because of fear.

About our relationships –

You may be born into a family, but you walk into friendships. Some you’ll discover you should put behind you. Others are worth every risk.

Throughout the book, Mateo and Rufus’ walls and defenses, including fears and insecurities, were slowly breaking down with the help of each other. They were actually quite a match and it is a pain that they met too late… late in the sense that death it upon both of them in less than 24 hours that they met.

But they made their last day count – they were able to properly say goodbye to people that mattered in their lives and they made a lot of experiences together. They did not hold back on living even when they knew their time was up.

Again, I knew how the story would end. But the day was so magical and can be pretty much summarized by this line from Mateo:

“I would’ve loved you if we had more time.” I spit it out because it’s what I’m feeling in this moment and was feeling the many moments, minutes, and hours before. “Maybe I already do. I hope you don’t hate me for saying that, but I know I’m happy.”

“People have their time stamps on how long you should know someone before earning the right to say it, but I wouldn’t lie to you no matter how little time we have. People waste time and wait for the right moment and we don’t have that luxury. If we had our entire lives ahead of us I bet you’d get tired of me telling you how much I love you because I’m positive that’s the path we were heading on. But because we’re about to die, I want to say it as many times as I want—I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Loving and feeling loved (for Mateo, it was Lidia and Rufus; for Rufus, it was the Plutos and Mateo) on your last day is such a gift. Really not a bad way to go for both of them.

Quick Notes: Oriental Mindoro

Travel date: 10 to 11 February 2018

This is not my first time in Oriental Mindoro as my bestfriend from college is from this province and it is usual for me to get invites to the province. And, the invites are usually accompanied with tours around the province. Yet, this place for me is still a truly hidden gem and never fails to surprise me. People usually associate Oriental Mindoro with Puerto Galera but this province definitely has a lot more places and spots to be discovered.

My stops this time were:

Day 1:

  • Sights – Aras Cave, Aras Falls, Calapan City Hall, Capitol Building
  • Eats – Chipping’s, Cafe Bernita, Cafe Meow

Just sad to see the graffiti on the stones but this was very remote. We were actually the only ones that were doing the trek. It is a short challenging trek with river crossings but the view was worth it. Definitely something different.

Day 2:

  • Sights – Silonay Mangrove Conservation and Eco Park, Public Beach, Overlooking – Christ the Redeemer
  • Eats – Marhabten, Anahaw

I became a fan of kayaks ever since I learned how to do it properly. My main concern is though was that there are really no directional signs on where to go so we felt lost after a time. We had to retrace our steps just to get back.

I have to thank my sister for arranging the itinerary and contacting the local tourism offices. I guess, for the most part, the sites visited were not yet ready for tourists. But, that is part of its charm, how rustic the province is. For guides, best to contact the local tourism offices.

I will never get tired of visiting this province, especially since it is easily accessible by buses and ferries.

The Silkworm

The Silkworm is the second book in the Cormoran Strike series.

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Similar with the first one, I liked the dynamics and how the author fleshed out both Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. For me, just two books in, their dynamic is the strength of the series. I am looking forward reading about how Robin further develops her detective skills.

Story wise, the Silkworm had a good story to tell… there were a number of quirky characters in place here that my mind had a hard time wrapping around but is probably a good representation of the various personalities in the publishing world. There was also a web of relationships and pasts among the characters that makes it a consistent guessing game on who is really responsible for the death of Owen Quine.

The killer of Owen Quine was like that blacktip, he thought. There were no frenzied, indiscriminate predators among the suspects in this case. None of them had a known history of violence. There was not, as so often when bodies turned up, a trail of past misdemeanors leading to the door of the suspect, no bloodstained past dragging behind any of them like a bag of offal for hungry hounds. This killer was a rarer, stranger beast: the one who conceals its true nature until sufficiently disturbed.

On how the story was told, however, is where my reservation with the book lies. I just felt like it was too dragging at some points with references and descriptions being mentioned repeatedly. I was more than halfway to the book and I felt like I was still not getting anywhere with the story. The narrative picks up pace near the end with the killer not known until the last chapter of the book. But for me, it was quite a stretch. It was not that enjoyable. But given the author’s style, this book may be worth a reread since there are probably a lot of hidden references and nuggets within the story. But, for now, I feel like I had enough of Bombyx Mori.

Still, I am curious how the third book goes considering how this book ended for Robin. (Maybe I am with Team Robin after all in these books)

Random thought: Silkworm is the first physical book I have read this year (and probably for quite some time). I definitely missed Kindle’s dictionary feature the most while reading, especially given the use of complex words by the author. I am starting to realize I am now for ebooks though purchase of physical ones from time to time would not hurt at all.

The Sun is also a Star

The Sun is also a Star tells the story of a day spent by Natasha, an illegal immigrant about to be deported, and Daniel, a Korean American about to go to an interview for Yale.

Natasha holds on to science while Daniel dreams of writing poems. It is a contrast that was evident from the start.

Natasha –

When they say the heart wants what it wants, they’re talking about the poetic heart—the heart of love songs and soliloquies, the one that can break as if it were just-formed glass. They’re not talking about the real heart, the one that only needs healthy foods and aerobic exercise. But the poetic heart is not to be trusted. It is fickle and will lead you astray. It will tell you that all you need is love and dreams. It will say nothing about food and water and shelter and money. It will tell you that this person, the one in front of you, the one who caught your eye for whatever reason, is the One.

Daniel –

“We have big, beautiful brains. We invent things that fly. Fly. We write poetry. You probably hate poetry, but it’s hard to argue with ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate’ in terms of sheer beauty. We are capable of big lives. A big history. Why settle? Why choose the practical thing, the mundane thing? We are born to dream and make the things we dream about.”

But with the help of a study about falling in love, which includes a set of questions and a 4-minute eye contact, coupled with Daniel’s charm and persistence, they find safe place with each other. They had an undeniable and unexplained connection – as if the universe conspired for their paths to cross for this day.

The narrative consistently shifts its point of view between the two. And for me, it worked. I understood both Natasha and Daniel, including their concerns, opinions and decisions. I felt the difference between the two and how they eventually melded to each other.

Moreover, I liked that it had chapters for the other characters as well. As a reader, I was treated to how Natasha’s father, Atty. Fitzgerald, Irene, etc, see things. This part for me was not overdone as it was enough for readers to better understand the other characters in the story. The narrative was also made more interesting by chapters that expound on certain points made by Natasha and Daniel, such as history of hair and narrative on eyes.

And what about the lovers who spend hours staring into each other’s eyes? Is it a display of trust? I will let you in close and trust you not to hurt me while I’m in this vulnerable position. And if trust is one of the foundations of love, perhaps the staring is a way to build or reinforce it. Or maybe it’s simpler than that.
A simple search for connection.
To see.
To be seen.

Admittedly, my conservative self is stilI shocked how quickly the events unfolded but I guess that is how strong their connection was. But, I also like Daniel as he was not really pushy… for me, he respected Natasha. I am still on the fence about saying if it was love since it was only for a day but I would not deny the connection they had.

My favorite line in this book reads:

Maybe part of falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself.

I agree to this. Though we should not need someone else to love ourselves, I think there are certain aspects wherein it will help to do so (maybe speed up the process somehow?).

I was surprised how fast I was able to read my way through this book but I guess it was mostly due to its structure with very short chapters and shifting point of view. Would I read it again? Maybe, but not anytime soon. After all, my kindle library has been expanding faster than I could keep up.

The Hangman’s Daughter

“The Hangman’s Daughter as a title is misleading for this book” was a common sentiment in the reviews I read before purchasing this one. To this, I agree.

Though you have to admire Magdalena in the course of the book for her knowledge, resourcefulness, confidence and agility, the star of this book is really Jakob Kuisl or the hangman himself. He may not have the best career in town but he ensures that justice is still served properly and correctly; he is not a blind follower of his superiors. He is not bound by the “should be”s as he stick to what is the just and right thing to do. I also admire how he takes it upon himself to help those in need with his medical knowledge (learned outside the university). He is not hindered by his work and reputation.

Another main character here is Simon, who somehow feels stuck with his choices given what the society dictates but still finds courage to do the right thing. Simon may have his moments of weaknesses but so glad he pulled through in the end. He was like Jakob’s sidekick in the story.

The narrative takes on historical elements to tell the story of society with varied interests. There is a mystery to be solved throughout the book with the resolution held out until the last pages. Reading it was a pleasure as the action kept building at a nice pace. It was also a complete guessing game until the end.

For me, it was a book where I met a good set of people who made clear choices – money and reputation over innocent lives, town’s peace over innocent lives, justice over the easy way out, silence and hiding over speaking out for the truth, love over family’s interests, etc. Though some choices were driven by emotions like fear, I think some of it already gives a clear view of what the individual prioritizes and values.

My favorite line was not part of the book, rather it is from the author’s post script wherein he shared his connection with the Kuisl’s (genealogy), it reads –

For him, the family is a safe refuge, a link bindig him to many people whom he loves and who loves him. I once heard that everyone on this earth is at least distantly related to everyone else. Somehow, this is a comforting idea.

Additional note: This book was written by Oliver Pötzsch, a German author, and was translated by Lee Chadeaynes. Mr. Chadeaynes was said to be drawn by the works of Pötzsch as it presents a compelling and colorful description of seventeenth century customs and life – including love, murder, superstitions, witchery and political intrigue – in a small Bavarian city.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper told the story of Arthur Pepper, a 69-year old man, who on the death anniversary of his wife discovers a charm bracelet hidden in one of her boots. This eventually led him to step out of his comfort zone and step into new adventures, with some bordering on almost unbelievable. It was a break from a routine he has made for himself since his wife died. But, it was something he pushed through since:

He was experiencing emotions he didn’t know existed. He had begun to discover people and animals that excited him. He wasn’t ready to rot away in his armchair, mourning his wife and waiting for his children to call, and filling his days with plant-watering and TV. And so even if the emotion he felt for this De Chauffant bloke was apprehension and jealousy, it made him feel alive. He needed a jolt to his system. Something to shake him out of the cozy prison he had created for himself. In a home where memories of Miriam were still fresh, he needed something else.

It helped him move on and live his life again.

At the heart of this book are two key concepts: the past and family. Through Arthur’s adventures, he was able to discover more about his wife and the life she lived before they met. More important, the journey helped Arthur realize that “he was stronger and had more depth than he knew and he liked these new discoveries about himself.” Moreover, it allowed him to open up once again to his kids and strangers who would eventually become friends.

I particularly loved how this book was able to come full circle – weaving together the past, present and future wherein Arthur Pepper came out stronger from it. The book was an amazing journey and made extra special since Arthur Pepper was a very amiable character. He was such a nice man and someone who dearly loved his wife.

My key takeaway is how the past has power only up to the extent we give it as mentioned in my favorite quote from the book:

Arthur thought about how it was possible for memories to shift and change with time. To be forgotten and resumed, to be enhanced or darkened as the mind and mood commanded.

It can consume a person with regret –

He regretted it now. They should have visited new places together, had new experiences when the kids got older. They should have grasped the opportunity to do what they wanted to do and expand their horizons, especially now he knew that Miriam had lived a fuller, more exciting life before they met. He had stifled her. He had been so set in his ways.

Yet, the regrets and what have beens should never overwrite the wonderful memories created –

Memories gradually began to emerge in Arthur’s mind, like friends appearing out of the mist. His curiosity about the stories behind the charms was beginning to fade. They were almost like fairy stories, things that had happened in a time past. He was pleased that his head was becoming full of his own stories again, ones about his wife and children.

And, sometimes the past may best be left behind –

You can’t stop people doing what they want to do if they really want to do it. Perhaps she thought that her life before you was no longer relevant. Sometimes when you’ve lived a chapter of your life, you don’t want to look back.

Other characters in this book in Mike, Bernadette, Nathan, Lucy and Dan were also adequately fleshed out and had their own stories to tell. I had a soft spot for Nathan’s story so I am glad for his turnaround as the book ended.

I loved this book and would gladly read this again. I have new found understanding for those who maintain charm bracelets; I did not realize how much stories those hold.