A Boy’s Life

A Boy’s Life is Cory Mackenson’s re-telling of his experiences as a 12-year old boy in Zephyr, his hometown. Zephyr is just like any ordinary town but made rich and magical by its eccentric set of residents and the powerful mind of a boy.

The story follows a murder mystery, a rarity in the quiet town, embellished with snippets of happenings around the town. The murder mystery in itself was a journey throughout, with lots of hidden clues and dead ends. It was also satisfactorily closed at the end of the book.

But, for me, the strength of this book lies on how it was able to discuss and cover a lot of heavy topics like bullying, bribery, death, depression, racial discrimination, animal rights, modernization (e.g., effects of supermarket in small towns), grief, etc. There was just a lot of meat in this book. Sometimes, I put it down just to give me time to digest and process its contents.

The book also draws a lot of power from Cory’s imagination as a boy, wherein admittedly the world is a lot different and contains just a bit of magic.

Personally, I feel like this book is one of the greatest books I have read. Admittedly, I did not know about it but was only intrigued as the cover said that it was a winner of the World Fantasy Award and Bram Stoker Award. After reading it, it deserved the accolades. Definitely a great read.

Thank you Robert McCammon for this wonderful gift to the world.

Favorite quotes:

On growing up –

“They may look grown-up,” she continued, “but it’s a disguise. It’s just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts. They still would like to jump and play, but that heavy clay won’t let them. They’d like to shake off every chain the world’s put on them, take off their watches and neckties and Sunday shoes and return naked to the swimming hole, if just for one day. They’d like to feel free, and know that there’s a momma and daddy at home who’ll take care of things and love them no matter what. Even behind the face of the meanest man in the world is a scared little boy trying to wedge himself into a corner where he can’t be hurt.”

“All life isn’t hearts and flowers.” Dad put down his paper. “I wish it was, God knows I do. But life is just as much pain and mess as it is joy and order. Probably a lot more mess than order, too. I guess when you make yourself realize that, you” — he smiled faintly, with his sad eyes, and looked at me — “start growin’ up.”

Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Hold on to being a boy as long as you can, because once you lose that magic, you’re always begging to find it again.”

On writing or being a storyteller –

THERE IS NOTHING MORE frightening or exciting than a blank piece of paper. Frightening because you’re on your own, leaving dark tracks across that snowy plain, and exciting because no one knows your destination but yourself, and even you can’t say exactly where you’ll end up.

“Seems to me a writer gets to hold a lot of keys,” she said. “Gets to visit a lot of worlds and live in a lot of skins. Seems to me a writer has a chance to live forever, if he’s good and if he’s lucky.

On moving on and finding peace –

“You know, no mistake in the world can’t be fixed. All it takes is wantin’ to fix it. Sometimes it’s hard, though. Sometimes it hurts to fix a mistake, but you have to do it no matter what.”

“I don’t think anybody gives you peace, Dad. I think you have to fight for it, whether you want to or not.

“Readin’. Writin’. Thinkin’. Those are the rungs on the ladder that lead up and out. Not whinin’ and takin’ and bein’ a mind-chained slave.

On death –

I remember hearing this somewhere: when an old man dies, a library burns down. xxx I wondered about this as I walked amid the graves. How many stories were here, buried and forgotten? How many old burned libraries, how many young ones that had been building their volumes year by year? And all those stories, lost.


The Other Einstein

This book evoked strong emotional response from me that I have to put it down from time to time. I have to keep reminding myself that most of it is fiction or as the author puts it: ” Whenever possible, in the overarching arc of the story—the dates, the places, the people—I attempted to stay as close to the facts as possible, taking necessary liberties for fictional purposes.

The book started with a hopeful and romantic take on Mileva’s days as a student in the university. It painted a world where social norms are being broken, particularly on women’s right for university education.

And for once, she was not alone in the journey as she met new female friends pursuing higher education.

“Friends did matter. Friends like these anyway, ones who were fiercely intelligent and similarly ambitious, who suffered through the same sort of ridicule and condemnation and survived, smiling. These friends didn’t take away my resolve to succeed as I’d feared. They made me stronger.”

They were not solely focused on studying as they also devoted some of their time playing music and exploring the mountains. It was a sisterhood that was meant to last… well it looked like one until Albert came along.

Mileva did try to take control of her emotions and hold on to her dreams even to the point of taking a semester off Zurich university. But, how she felt for Albert was different as this quote puts it:

“Izgoobio sam sye. These were the only words I could think of to describe how I felt at that moment. Roughly translated from the Serbian, they meant lost. Lost as in directions, lost from myself, lost to him.”

It was interesting to read how the relationship developed from acquaintances to intellectual equals then suddenly having Mileva as a shadow or almost like a house maid just tending to the needs of Albert and their sons.

I questioned most of her choices but I have to defer that they are all difficult ones. She was trying to hold on to a family even how dysfunctional her relationship is with Albert for her sons more than anyone else. It had to take a reunion with her close friend Helene and a meet-up with Madam Curie for her to recover some of self love and pride and walk away from the marriage. As Madam Curie pointed it:

“Remember my words, Mileva, when you withdraw into the deadening cycle of home. You and I are not so different except in the choices we’ve made. And remind yourself that a new choice is always possible.”

I am glad that in the end, she made a choice that restores a bit of dignity and love in herself. But as I tweeted after reading the book, they may have separated in the end but for me it is too late for all the scientific ambitions she had when she pursued her degree in Zurich.

As the author puts it:

“Her story was, in many ways, the story of many intelligent, educated women whose own aspirations were marginalized in favor of their spouses.”

A key element of the story that is subject of much debate is the extent of Mileva’s contribution to the papers published by Einstein that led him to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

After consulting google, I am still on the fence with this issue and no one can really say with 100% certainty the extent of participation Mileva had played in the authorship of the papers. On one hand, the articles painted an intelligent woman capable of handling herself on scientific discussions with other male students. Then, in some, it mentioned how she gave up her scientific dreams after marrying Albert.

Whatever it is, I agree that “the purpose of The Other Einstein is not to diminish Albert Einstein’s contribution to humanity and science but to share the humanity behind his scientific contributions. The Other Einstein aims to tell the story of a brilliant woman whose light has been lost in Albert’s enormous shadow—that of Mileva Marić.”

Magemother: the complete series

Note: I bought the Magemother Series from Kindle as a set so I decided to post my review of the whole series rather than on a per book basis. The series is composed of three books and a bonus story.

I enjoyed the first book. I guess there is always excitement in a new world for me – a part of me has always been amazed at how authors are able to create a fantasy world with just their imagination. In particular, I was intrigued by Ninebridge, which serves as portal to other places in the kingdom.

In the first book, I also saw Brinley grow, including the doubts and questions she had as she explores Aberdeen and the other kingdoms. This was also the book where we met Habis, a character which I think deserves more side story. Even if she was not mentioned that much in the story, Habis is my sentimental favorite in this series given the extent of role she played in the series’ conclusion and of her transformation throughout the series.

The bonus Novella was also good. Though it is just a short read, it was able to tell a complete story. Though Tabitha is the definite star in this, this was also the novella where I felt Archibald deserves more than a few mentions. This novella is a definite must read as there are bits of information in it that are relevant with other books in the series.

The second book is when I started to struggle. As much as I loved Animus, the Mage of Wind, I just could not warm myself up to Hugo. Even if I try and remember his age in the story, sometimes I could not justify how conceited and entitled he was. I just felt like he was given more than he can chew as the Mage of Light and Darkness. I guess wanting something bad enough does not necessarily mean we are ready for it. And, for the task involved, I just felt he was too young.

For the last book, I felt it tried to wrap too many things up in a short amount of time; then, a lot of grand references and quotable quotes were added such that it was no longer relatable for me. I go back to my sentiment that Brinley, Hugo and Tabitha were just too young to assume the responsibilities thrust upon them. But, it was nice to see the mages together in action.

In summary, the series started ok for me, especially with the Magemother concept, but I struggled midway up to the end. The ending for me felt almost as if it was trying to be symbolic for something grander than what it should have been. Would I read it again? Probably not, especially the 2nd and 3rd books.

Quick Notes: Coron

Welcome from Barracuda Lake

I visited Coron last 27 October to 02 November 2017, primarily to see the Dugong and the wrecks, which are two of the main attractions the province is known for.

It is not actually my first time in Coron. My first time was way back in 2013 with my friends from the office. We did the island hopping, hot springs and climb to Mt. Tapyas back then. But, this trip is different as it is more focused on dives and the other side of Busuanga island.

Dugong infographic from Cashew Grove Resort

Best to start that I was quite unfortunate with the Dugong. I  was part of the group that did not see the Dugong.. the first in almost two months (based on the the resort owner and the guides)!

Main factor was the poor visibility. Prior to the trip, the guides were quite optimistic and confident since there is a friendly Dugong that regularly feeds in a specific area. But, due to a number of factors, visibility was not good that day. Our group was advised not to proceed either with snorkeling or diving.

Ou group was then transferred to a reef (note: a beautiful reef with diverse marine life) where there is a chance of seeing one since it is also a feeding ground; but, luck was still not on our side. I guess it was not yet in my cards to see the Dugong (that is mother nature for you). But, I do hope I get the chance to see them in the future in their habitat. I do pray that the surrounding community really moves towards saving the Dugong.

Coron Wrecks from Reggae Dive Center

For the wrecks, this was quite an experience. First off, let me say that I am not really a fan of wrecks, especially when there is penetration involved. My main fear is getting disoriented and lost inside the wreck.

After this trip, I could say that wrecks are really not my cup of tea. I love the history behind the wrecks but the experience being in one is totally different.

My fear was not baseless after all; but, the risk of getting lost and disoriented can be managed if you get competent dive masters to accompany you (slow clap to our guide Arjay from the Reggae Dive Center). I tried to be real focused during dive orientations but the dark seems to erase everything I tried processing and remembering. I ended up being completely reliant on my dive master (well, and my dive computer) inside the wrecks.


Random rails underwater

Again, it is just not my cup of tea but I can sense that there are divers that prefer this, probably those that knows about ships. Still, a great experience. In some ways, I felt like an austronaut floating into unchartered territory researching for something.

Coron definitely has a lot to offer – both wrecks and marine life. For the latter, even if I was not able to see the Dugong, Coron still has a lot to offer – first time to see an electric clam, cuttlefish, blue dragon nudibranch, second time to see an octopus, ray and leaf fish, school of jacks, and lots of scorpion fishes.

Will I go back? Yes, hopefully when there is better visibility. After all, I have not yet dived Siete Picados and seen a Dugong.

Credits: Dugong infographic as posted in Cashew Grove Resort and Coron Wreck Summary as posted in Reggae Dive Center

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Cuckoo’s Calling was a wonderful read. The beauty in it is the continuous shift in my head as to the identity of the suspect based on the tidbits (i.e., information and evidence) being gathered by Cormoran Strike and her temporary secretary, Robin. And that grand reveal in the end was a surprise for me, I did not see that coming.

Prospectively, I am curious how this partnership between Cormoran and Robin will develop since I like how they are able to work together in this case. I felt like solving the case would not have been successful without one or the other.

There are also subplots involved that tell the story of Cormoran and Robin. I felt that the snippets were wonderfully woven into the narrative, such as a memory triggered by an expression or an event. It also humanizes the characters and presents opportunities for future narratives. Personally, I cannot wait for Matthew, Robin’s fiance, to meet Cormoran.

All in all, I am happy with this read and I could not wait to get my hands on the other books in the series.

My favorite quote from this book is:

People liked to talk; there were very few exceptions; the question was how you made them do it. Some, xxx, were amenable to alcohol; others liked a spotlight; and then there were those who merely needed proximity to another conscious human being. A subsection of humanity would become loquacious only on one favorite subject: it might be their own innocence or somebody else’s guilt; it might be their collection or pre-war biscuit tins; or it might, xxx, be the hopeless passion of a plain secretary.

Thank you to Amazon for putting the Kindle book on sale during their last anniversary! (Having a hard time locating this in our local bookstores)

Falling into Place

Since work is suspended, I ended up speeding through this book.

This is a heavy one – dealing with topics such as depression, suicide, drug use, alcohol, bullying, grief and pregnancy in the context of high school students. Sometimes, I personally wish most of the situations that play out in the narrative are far from what is actually happening but times may indeed have changed since I was in high school. Or, I was just comfortably sitting in the outer circle reading the classics or solving mathematics problems. Nevertheless, this is a good read as it explores the thoughts of someone who planned and committed her suicide.

The story is told primarily from the point of view of the Liz, the resident queen bee, and her two best friends. All of them are broken pieces drawing strength from each other. Their strength as a team, however, most often than not result to destructive consequences for the people around them and even to themselves. There is almost a sense of reckless abandon in the group, particularly for Liz, yet with glimpses of vulnerability, hope and dreams in each of them.

Out of the seven billion people sharing the planet with her, not one of them knew what was going through her head. Not one of them knew that she was lost. Not one of them asked.

That thought of Liz as quoted above is quite powerful. It speaks of how there can be layers to a person; how one's thoughts may not readily be apparent from her actions. Yet, she wants someone to check on her. She actually tried to reach out to the guidance counselor in the story but the trust was just not there and she ended up discarding the counselor's advice in the process.

The story, for me, was also able to flesh out her two best friends – Julia and Kennie – quite well. By the end of it, I understood their personality and their hardships, which is beyond the facade they have been projecting to other students at Meridian High School. There was no mention of what happened to them in the epilogue but I hope they delivered on their promises to Liz while she was still in the hospital surrounded by machines and tubes. And, for Liam, I hope he realizes he deserves someone more – no need to look after broken pieces.

The story was told in various timelines – before the planned suicide, minutes before the crash, and after the crash with recollections from Liz' childhood sprinkled in the narrative. For me, the arrangement was quite ok even if it is not linear since I was able to follow the flow of the story. I found her childhood to be very important in the narrative as it appeared that she never really recovered from her grief in losing her father at an early age. My main concern in reading the book, however, is the voice being used in some of the chapters. I thought she had a sibling but it was just the voice of her imaginary friend. I found it odd.

All in all, it was a good read but a bit too heavy. I should choose my next book carefully.

The book ended with details on resources available 24/7 for people who need help, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK [8755] or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) or the Crisis Text Line (text LISTEN to 741-741). For the Philippines, Hopeline may be reached at (02) 804-4637; 0917-5584673; and 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers (source: gmanewsonline website).

The book also shared some of the signs, namely deep sadness, loss of interest/withdrawal, trouble sleeping or eating, having a death wish such as taking unnecessary risks, increasing use of alcohol or drugs, and mood swings.

Finding Our Forever

This is not my usual read. I found it a bit too raunchy than necessary and was not completely satisfied with how everything turned out. I am still thinking what about the description got my attention, or was it simply the title?

Nevertheless, there is still a lot to take away from the book. My personal favorite is how the book shows that our past may affect our present and/or future but it does not have the power to fully shape it. From Aiyana to Eli, it was evident how change can still happen even if you are from dire situations.

My main reservation with the book was with Cora, the main female protagonist. But it may be a case of, as Cora puts it, "I haven't experienced anything like what you have, which is why I hesitate to offer any advice. I don't appreciate it when people tell me what I should do or how I should feel about certain things when they've never been in the same situation."

Then, just to share some of the quotes I liked in the book:

Creative endeavors are one of the best tools we have to ease the pain and anger that's inside many of them

It's the same with regular parents. All kids should be grateful and aware of their parent's sacrifice.

It's important to know when fear's doing the talking – to keep things straight in your head.

At least, it had a happy ending.