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.

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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.

The First Phone Call from Heaven

What happens when someone from a small town receives a phone call from heaven? Then, what happens if the whole world gets wind of it through news and social media — how big will its impact be?

The book answered these questions through a collection of stories with varying perspectives on the miracle that has transpired.

For me, the chosen ones in Katherine Yellin, Tess Rafferty, Jack Sellers and his ex-wife Doreen and Elias Rowe were able to present a good variety of perspectives on how a miracle may be received by individuals. I ended this book with an understanding of where these individuals were coming from as it was able to intelligently weave these characters’ sub-stories in the plot without overburdening the narrative. Grief and losing a loved one is really a complicated thing as shown by how it has affected the lives of these individuals.

“You have to start over. That’s what they say. But life is not a board game, and losing a loved one is never really “starting over.” More like “continuing without.”

I also appreciated how perspectives from other individuals, such as Pastor Warren, Mayor Jeff Jacoby, and Amy Penn, a news reporter, were able to add another dimension to the narrative.

But, the core of this book that made everything cohesive is focused on Sullivan Harding whose story can best be summarized with this quote from the book:

“There are two stories for every life: the one you live and the one others tell.”

I felt sad for Sully throughout the book as he was a victim of bad circumstances and luck. With all that has happened to him, I understood how it shook his faith – he almost lost it all. So, I was really happy when he was finally able to sleep soundly for the first time as the book closes. Sully has been burdened by the past, which was rightfully closed in the end. He deserved that peaceful sleep.

Moreover, the book is sprinkled with snippets on the discovery of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell and other substories that followed – such as the shot to fame, lawsuits and the role that his wife Mabel played in it.

All in all, I liked this book. It was hard to put down so I finished it quite fast – helped me pass time while on transit and in the plane on a long haul flight.

To end, let me share how Mitch Albom ended the author’s note:

“We may not know the truth about phones and heaven, but we do know this: in time, He answers all calls, and he answered mine.”

Looking forward to reading more books from Mitch Albom.

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.