Book Thoughts: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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“Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?”

The Old Man and the Sea  is Ernest Hemingway’s last published work of fiction in his lifetime. It is basically just about what the title says, about an old man and the sea but let’s not forget to include the fish. I think the main theme of the book is the old man’s exceptional resilience and perseverance. He wanted to prove to people and especially to himself that he’s still the fisherman that he used to be. That old age will not hinder him in his goal. The minimalist prose and narrative style fits the simplicity of the story.

(Spoilers ahead!)

At the start, we are introduced to the old man and the boy who was helping him. Due to bad luck, for not catching any fish for 84 days, the boy was prevented by his parents to stay with the old man. He was alone after that, but I as a reader stayed with him and witnessed his struggles. And I sympathized with him. I rooted for him to go on even though it feels hopeless. But after a long time of difficulty, this reader lost hope. There came a point that even I wanted him to give up. I pitied him. I didn’t want to read about what he’s going through anymore. But the old man didn’t stop. In my head I was saying, “You won’t catch a fish. And you’re old! Can’t you just go home and rest?” And then, yay! How happy I had been when he finally caught the fish. And then how affected I was, even felt like crying, when little by little, the sharks ate the fish. But in the end, his main goal was accomplished. He proved to himself and to others that he can still catch a fish, and a very big fish it was. He had his evidence and he got the respect that he deserves. And I was happy that the boy came back.

(3.5/5 stars)

Book Thoughts: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

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“Even later, on the thirteen nights that followed this one, instinctively they stuck to the Small Things. The Big Things ever lurked inside. They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to the small things.”

The God of Small Things is the first and only novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. This novel is a story about the childhood experiences of the twins Rahel and Estha whose lives are destroyed by the “Love Laws” that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” I’ve been planning to read this for a long time since this is a favorite of my friend whose opinion and taste in books I respect. Then it became our book club’s book last March so I finally had a chance to read it. And love it.

The structure of the plot is complex and very unconventional. It started with the coming home of Rahel then shifted to their childhood when their cousin died. The setting then kept on shifting back and forth, shifting of past and present, stories interlacing and blending. I’ll admit, this narrative is not easy to follow. Sometimes it’s confusing. In the beginning, we know bad things will happen but we don’t know how and why they happened. Within the shifting, there were flashbacks of memories with signs. I think there is beauty in this mystery that held my attention, kept me looking for signs until everything was revealed near the end. Understanding dawns on us as we read.  I think the non-linear storytelling improves the reader’s understanding as knowledge of the future provides more meaning to what happened in the past. After sometime, I enjoyed the jumping of the story-line at random points in the characters’ lives and figured out the story from there.

There are a lot of characters in this novel but I felt that I know them all well. The narrative is told in a way that we learn about each of the members of their family. And also of Velutha and his father, who are workers in their factory and even of Kochu Maria, a family servant. Even though we mostly see the novel from Rahel’s perspective, we get a decent view of each character’s motives and back-stories.

The connection of the twins is also interesting. How when they were children, they’re close and understand each other, as if they’re just one person.  I like how the story was told in the children’s point of view in the past with their innocence and imagination. How they created their own language, linking words, reading them backwards, and using odd capitalization. These words acquired deeper meaning. It’s as if the twins are telling us that they’re important so we should remember them. How they both endured the sufferings in their childhood. And how they were separated until they were reunited again in the present. The guilt they must have felt but with the realization that “You’re not the Sinners. You’re the Sinned Against.”

There’s a lot of symbolism used in this story. The pickles, Papachi’s moth, The History House, Rahel’s watch, Small Things, Big Things, etc. I will not try to analyze them here but they are good hints to the story line. Through this novel, I also became more aware, or let’s say, I was reminded again of the injustice and hypocrisy in our society. Communism and Marxism, the caste system, different sexual freedom of men and women, and colonialism. This is a drama about love, pain, lies, misunderstanding, discrimination and family reputation. All these things echoed through the years; what happened during childhood have haunted the twins through time.

I read this more than three months ago but while writing this, it still evokes a lot of feelings. Tortured Velutha, Sophie Mol’s death, the effect to the twins and what they did in the end. This novel is heartbreaking, tragic and cruel. But with the unique narrative and those jumping timelines, I applaud the author’s choice of the ending. Affirmation of true love, setting aside other people’s judgments. Sticking to the “Small Things”. Waiting for each “Tomorrow.” Brilliant!

(5/5 stars)

Book Thoughts: Angelfall by Susan Ee

“The thought of superhuman beings with human temptations
and flaws sends a chill through me.”
 

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Angelfall, the first book in the Penryn & the End of Days series by Susan Ee, is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel featuring angels who attacked our world. Lately, I’ve been holding back in reading dystopian novels because I think I’ve had enough last year but this one is recommended by our book club moderator this month, and I don’t regret reading it.

This is my first time to read a book about angels and I enjoyed reading about them. How they are portrayed in the book is stunning. My favorite scene is in the beginning, the first time Penryn, our narrator, saw angels. Men with wings in different colors. Supernatural beings with their muscled forms. I love that fight scene between the “snowy angel” and the other five, with Penryn and her family watching. This is the event that resulted to Penryn and “snowy angel” Raffe to be together and help each other solve each of their problems.

I like the first chapters, thrilling and interesting enough. The middle part is just okay, not that exciting for me. But the fast-paced action in the ending chapters gripped me and had me turning the pages faster. There are some gruesome scenes that I wish I didn’t read while eating. Yet those disturbing scenes are also the heartbreaking ones. Also, I’m not sold in the romance parts. I think my Romance Grinch friend infected me in some way. LOL!

The ending wants us to believe that the angels are superhuman yet they are flawed. While the frail and struggling humans are still worth to be proud of. I don’t know; I am not that affected. Maybe I’m getting tired of this genre. Even so, angel politics and some concepts about God, the Messenger, archangels and stuff are intriguing enough that I’m still willing to read the next book in the series.

(3/5 stars)

Book Thoughts: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

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“Every kind of love, it seems, is the only one. It doesn’t happen twice.”

I first learned about this book from a book club friend who really liked it about a year ago; I marked it as a wishlist and received it as a gift a few months ago. I’ve been planning to read it this year for my retelling challenge but not this soon. Just because of a book club activity, I started it the other day. (But I’ll be garnering just one point for this. LOL) But I’m glad I chose this, an appropriate book if you don’t want to stop reading.

I know that this is a retelling of Peter Pan, which the protagonist would obviously be Tiger Lily. I know that it’s not a happy story about her with the lines “Forget him. Forget him.” in the blurb at the back of my book. What I didn’t know is if Peter will also fall in love with her or if it would be unrequited love all along. And what I didn’t expect is how much this will make my heart ache.

One of the main reasons why I really like this novel is because it was told in Tinker Bell’s perspective. Tinker Bell told us from the start that because faeries are mute, it makes them see things. They turn their attention to observing. They are empathic, attuned to the beating of the heart that they are almost inside others’ minds. Plus, she’s a bit different than the other faeries because she gets easily bored, always curious, nosy even. These gave us the privilege to know the characters in a closer level. And because she can fly, we can also see overviews of things. All of these makes her a very unique and creative narrator.

I loved Tiger Lily from the start. I was affected when she changed, when she made bad decisions. She is fierce and brave, but also fragile and could be selfish, making her more real for me. Tiger Lily experienced a lot of suffering, with her being different from her tribe, being engaged to someone that she doesn’t like, and with changes in their community because of the Englanders. But of all these things that happened to her, Wendy scared her more than any other. In this story, I hated Wendy Darling, the girl we always like and know that is meant to be with Peter Pan. Anderson made me want to believe that it could be otherwise. Hoping against hope that it could be Peter Pan and Tiger Lily instead. I was like Tinker Bell, caring for her, rooting for her. We know Tinker Bell doesn’t like Wendy. And although we know she likes Peter Pan too, it wasn’t because of that. But it’s because how loyal and protective she is of Tiger Lily. I love their friendship. Although Tiger Lily seems not to care or see her in the beginning, Tinker Bell realized something when she was saved by her from drowning.

“You think you know that someone sees you one way, and barely at all, and then you realize that they see you in another. That was the night I realized Tiger Lily had seen-really seen-me all along.”

Anderson wrote it beautifully. The ending is sad and happy at the same time. It is heartbreaking but still hopeful. And since I like this story very much, upon hearing a sample of an audio book of this here in Goodreads, I would like to reread it by audio book. And hear Tinker Bell tell me this beautiful story once more.

(5/5 stars)

Book Thoughts: The Yellow-lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee

The Yellow-lighted Bookshop is written by a lover of books and bookstores who worked as a bookseller for over 20 years. While it is the author’s memoir of his time in bookstores, it also includes the history of book selling and publishing.

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“What better place to enjoy the stretched hours than a bookstore.”

Some of my friends, those who don’t read, say that reading for me has already been an addiction. Reading this book reminded me that I am not alone, and thus gave me consent to continue plunging into this obsession. So I would just basically enumerate some of Buzbee’s thoughts that I could relate to. Hehe!

“In the bookstore, we may be alone among others, but we are connected to others.”

By just walking into a bookstore, the book lovers that we are, there is already a sense of excitement within. Then there’s an urge to buy books, even if we still have a lot of books unread at home and other books that we want to reread. Or even if we don’t buy, just roaming and looking at the titles is enough for us to enjoy hours of being in a bookstore. Buzbee even pointed out the advantage of the physical nature of books, that even though it has varying sizes, they still have the same basic shape, slim and rectangular, so that it can be easily shelved and stored. And we can easily slide a book out between two others and easily return it in the same spot. While I never thought about these simple things before, reading these made me appreciate books even more.

Also, during travels, it’s a must that I include bookstores or libraries in my itinerary, which my non-bookish friends would sort of laugh about. Within this book, Buzbee enumerated some of his favorite bookstores, which I hope I could someday visit. Another thing mentioned that I am guilty of is book-snooping. If I see someone with a book, I would try to peer over to see what the person is reading. I’ll look at the cover, curious about the title, maybe glimpse some words. If I can’t see them though, I am satisfied with just seeing a stranger reading, a kindred spirit.

Buzbee also visualized a scenario that creates what he calls a pleasant equilibrium. He described how readers love coffee and cigarettes plus reading or writing, with long conversations or just staring out the window. I have wondered even before, why do book lovers love coffee? Yes, not all readers, but a lot. Or why are there a lot of readers in cafes? And bookshops beside coffee houses or bookshops with coffee shops? Didn’t we all dreamed of a bookstore plus a cafe business? In some way, he answered these questions with this quote:

“The bookstore and the coffee house are natural allies;
neither has a time limit, slowness is encouraged.”

I learned a lot about the history of bookshops and booksellers, about printing and publishing. It’s funny that the first booksellers are closely associated with swindlers. The book mentioned about the great library at Alexandria, and the Gutenberg press, with interesting facts like how English and European bookstores were once arranged by publishers rather than by section, why and when were massmarket paperbacks first published and up to the present with the role of online sellers like Amazon. In the midst of these history lessons, he also told us stories of camaraderie between book lovers. It was clearly manifested during the publishing of Ulysses by James Joyce involving the Paris bookstore called Shakespeare and Co. Another story is about the controversy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. These two stories are inspiring proofs of how book lovers connect, not only in solitude.

It also tackled the “death” of literature, when “novel” died, when “bookstore” died, and how electronic media took people away from books. But Buzbee gave us another perspective. It was said that electronic media and the Internet are the bookstore’s greatest nemesis. But really, they’re not. It’s true that this book hails physical books and brick-and-mortar bookstores. But at the end of the book, it also informs us the importance of Internet in literature. It helps readers to connect. One example is how I got this book. This book is our book club’s Travelling Book #2, a book passed among members. If it ain’t for the Internet, I wouldn’t have discovered Goodreads where our book club is based. I wouldn’t have met some of my favorite people, my bookish friends, who would recommend books to buy and to read. The web is connecting readers, not keeping readers out of the bookstore.

And now, by blogging about this book, I’m using the Internet to somehow pass to others what I have read. I’m telling you that I enjoyed reading this book. So when you are stretching some hours in a bookstore and see this, maybe you’ll decide to pick it up and buy it.

(4/5 stars)

Book Thoughts: Fall Like Rain by Ana Tejano

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“But what if this doesn’t work out? What if he still doesn’t choose me?”
“Then it’s really time to let go.”

Fall Like Rain is Ana Tejano’s debut novel, a contemporary romance story about a girl who is in love with her best friend. We heard the same dilemma in books and movies before, but it’s a popular topic which I know a lot can relate to. So when I heard it is already available in Amazon (and because Ana Tejano! 😀 ),  I readily bought a copy.

This is a short but very engaging read. I was busy lately so I said I’ll read just one chapter at a time. But I was always eager to know what happens next. Just like Rain, who kept on thinking what will happen next with her relationship with Mark. So I’d say another chapter more. And another.

With regards to the characters, I like Mark. He’s charming. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a friend like him? (Okay, maybe others won’t. Hehe!) Yet he should be more open with his feelings so that we don’t keep on guessing what he really feels. Just friends? Just nice? Leading on? So that we refrain from assuming. I also like the relationship between family and friends shown in the novel. I particularly like the scenes with Meah, Cams and Kuya Raymond. I don’t know but I didn’t like Lissa that much. (Or maybe I’m biased because she’s the third party? LOL) Also, I wasn’t that much convinced about the storyline regarding Francis. I’m not sure,  like there was something lacking in his character, in what he said and did in the end.

But here’s what I really like. Rain. I read some reviews of people not liking Rain’s character that much. Because she’s timid, and an overthinker. But I like how Ana Tejano wrote her. Her thoughts and feelings were written in such a way that we could understand her and empathize with her. Her struggles, her confusion, the heartbreak. The pain when the one you love loves someone else. Assuming. Expecting. She is very real and relatable. Well, Rain and I actually have a few things in common. (Like placing keys on the top of the fridge. 😛 )

I really enjoyed reading this sweet and entertaining novella about family, friendship and love. So when Ana Tejano’s next novel is up, I will definitely read it too.

If you’re interested in stories like this, you can buy Fall Like Rain Kindle edition at Amazon. But you can already order a paperback copy. Ana said it will really look pretty on our shelves. And look! I got mine last Saturday. So it’s there on my shelf. 🙂 Oh, I really really love the cover!

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(3.5/5 stars)

Book Thoughts: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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“In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?”

The quote above was mentioned by Robert Frobisher, the composer in the second story of this book. He was describing here his work, the Cloud Atlas Sextet. This is also an analogy to the structure of this David Mitchell novel. Cloud Atlas is composed of six stories. Each story was cut in the middle, and then followed by the next story, until the sixth. Then each was continued until we go back again to the first story (like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1).

I finished reading Cloud Atlas two months ago but I haven’t been able to write my thoughts until now. I read this simultaneously with four friends and we talked about this since we started last August. Since our group chat has already stopped, (Who would have thought we would stop? LOL) I had this urge to write down some thoughts (as if this will put a closure to this amazing Cloud Atlas ride).

Each of the six stories of Cloud Atlas is written in different formats: through a journal, letters, a novel, a movie, an interrogation, and an oral storytelling. It is like 6 different books by 6 different authors. And we get to travel from one time period and genre to another. One distinct variation that I admire is the language used in each part. I love how language evolved through each story, from Adam Ewing’s 1800s English to Sloosha’s post-apocalyptic words with a lot of apostrophes. (These chapters were the most difficult for me to read because of the language.) And as I immersed myself in the worlds created by Mitchell, I fell in love with the main characters. An Orison of Sonmi-451 and Letters from Zedelghem are my favorite chapters. In these, my favorite characters can be found.

Each individual story has an exciting plot and can exist on their own. But despite the differences in settings and genre, each is connected to the other. The story that precedes a story can be read or watched or listened to in the next. This aspect, this structure, is what others may call gimmicky. But I think it’s an effective strategy to show how things and people are connected. The recurring theme of power, survival, and morality are also depicted across time. Reading the stories is fulfilling on their own, but once you think and start to put the ideas and the themes together, I can say that they became more meaningful. It’s definitely proper to say that here, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

At first, I didn’t bother to examine the connection of the stories, delving too much into the details and their meaning. But talking and sharing thoughts with friends about a book made me think more about how the stories and the characters are connected. I may not understand everything that Mitchell wanted to say in this novel, but it did have a sort of effect on me.  This may sound weird but this book made me feel more connected, like I became more aware that I am connected to people around me, to people from the past and also to those in the future. It’s amazing to contemplate about how an act or an object can transcend through time.

I first heard about this book because of the movie. Then it was recommended by a friend from a book club, and it was also included in TFG’s Recommendation List. Those times, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t know David Mitchell. I started reading without any idea about the story and how it was written. But I think knowing so little about the novel made my whole reading experience more enjoyable. I have no idea about the structure until I reached the 2nd or the 3rd chapter. I was surprised. I agree with those David Mitchell fans that this is a very intelligent work. He made a lot of references. We can see how he made the connections in each story, how he managed to connect the characters and the themes. Just the idea of the structure, being unconventional, and the theme of recurrence and connectedness already amazed me. And these he incorporated and carried out brilliantly. I can’t wait for January to read his Ghostwritten next. Also because I’ll be reading it with the same awesome friends.

(5/5 stars)