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.


The Silkworm

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


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 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.

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.”

Five Weeks (or seven days mentally) in a Balloon

The latest book I finished is Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon or Journeys and Discoveries in Africa by Three Englishmen.  It is the first book in the Jules Verne Collection I bought from the Kindle store.

This was a tough read for me.  I almost stopped reading at the start given the scientific (e.g., how the balloon functions) and historical (e.g., previous expeditions) references in the first few chapters.  In addition, difficult words abound in this edition; for some words, it was even the first time I encountered them  (NOTE: Thankfully, I am reading via Kindle which has a built-in dictionary/word look-up).

But, I was after an “adventure” and this kept me going to push and read on.

At the end of the book, I have to say I did get my aeronaut adventure crossing Africa.  A lot of trials were experienced by Dr. Samuel Ferguson, Joseph “Joe” Wilson and Richard “Dick” Kennedy throughout their five-week journey – dehydration, lack of wind, bandits and condors, etc.  It was not a smooth five weeks, especially in the last few stretches of the trip.  I do not fancy this kind of trip, but it was an experience and exercise for the imagination.  As they put it:

these trips across the desert are far more perilous than those across the ocean.  The desert has all the dangers of the sea, including the risk of being swallowed up, and added thereto are unendurable fatigues and deprivations.

Joe stood out for me in this trip, even with his short episode of greed.

However, nowadays, there are probably better and more accurate description of the wonders of African continent, especially its human population.  I have not been there but the consistent description of them as gullible, savages and cannibals, among others, I felt was a bit over the top.

Glad I was able to finish this one.  Now I need a lighter read.