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bookworm diaries

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Genre: Historical Fiction/War/Young Adult
Copy: Online
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌗

Short Synopsis: 

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.

What I liked:

1. The POV. This is the first WWII novel I have come to read that is not centered on the plight of Jews during Hitler’s regime (which just reminds me again that I must not call myself a well-read person). It gave me a glimpse of the side of war that I have not paid close attention to before: the struggles of the lesser known European countries during Stalin’s rule. One will have to read this novel with a lump in their throat. From the first page to the last, there were suffering and misery and death. There were moments of hope, too, sneaking in and out of their gray days. But as with all wars, nobody truly wins in the end.

The POV from a teenage Lithuanian girl is also a welcome take. And the use of art (drawing) to reveal the truth and to connect with others is powerful move. I find the bittersweet flashbacks of Lina’s family life before the war a breather. It reminded me of the real humans before they were turned into a walking ghost.

2. The characters. Each individual is a gem, from the likeable to the unlikeable. The characterization felt real and I found it easy to jump from one shoe to another. It was an emotional rollercoaster living the lives of these characters. Their pain, frustration, fear, anger, madness — I felt it all. The only thing that felt distant to me is their resilience (perhaps reading the book in these anxious times made it so).

Continue reading “Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys”

Book Review: Echoes by Danielle Steel 

Genre: Historical Fiction/War/Romance
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Short Synopsis: Against a vivid backdrop of history, Danielle Steel tells a compelling story of love and war, acts of faith and acts of betrayal…and of three generations of women as they journey though years of loss and survival, linked by an indomitable devotion that echoes across time.

For the Wittgenstein family, the summer of 1915 was a time of both prosperity and unease, as the guns of war sound in the distance. But for eldest daughter Beata, it was also a summer of awakening. By the glimmering waters of Lake Geneva, the quiet Jewish beauty met a young French officer and fell in love. Knowing that her parents would never accept her marriage to a Catholic, Beata followed her heart anyway. And as the two built a new life together, Beata’s past would stay with her in ways she could never have predicted. For as the years pass, and Europe is once again engulfed in war, Beata must watch in horror as Hitler’s terror threatens her life and family–even her eighteen-year-old daughter Amadea, who has taken on the vows of a Carmelite nun.

For Amadea, the convent is no refuge. As family and friends are swept away without a trace, Amadea is forced into hiding. Thus begins a harrowing journey of survival, as she escapes into the heart of the French Resistance. Here Amadea will find a renewed sense of purpose, taking on the most daring missions behind enemy lines. And it is here, in the darkest moments of fear, that Amadea will feel her mother’s loving strength–and that of her mother’s mother before her–as the voices of lost loved ones echo powerfully in her heart. And here, amid the fires of war, Amadea will meet an extraordinary man, British secret agent Rupert Montgomery. In Colonel Montgomery, Amadea finds a man who will help her discover her place in an unbreakable chain between generations…and between her lost family and her dreams for the future–a future she is only just beginning to imagine: a future of hope rooted in the rich soil of the past.

What I liked:

  1. It is a story of war. Of war between races and war between faiths. Of war between families and war between selves. Of the war from within and the war from without. We are never short of historical fiction that portray life during the WWII — The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, All the Light We Cannot See, The Book Thief, you name it. In Echoes, Danielle Steel zooms into the very nucleus of society, the family, to illustrate the influence of war and its costs.
  2. It is a story of family. Three generations of women — Monika, Beata, Amadea — carried me on a compelling journey against the backdrop of war. Each of these women experiences internal and external conflicts, and confronts them in contrasting ways. Monika, weighed down by her husband’s domination, is unable to stand up for her daughter. Beata, who found courage in love but lost it upon her lover’s death, becomes a cowardly widow and a distant mother to her kids. Amadea, forced to mature at an early age, grows with a free mind and spirit but is thrust into the horrors of death camps. It was fascinating to follow how these women held the family together… and separately.
  3. It is a story of love. Echoes depicts love in all its phases and faces. Romantic love, familial love, enduring love, self love, agape love. The kind of love that takes you by surprise; the kind of love that takes its time. The kind of love that blooms because of shared pain; the kind of love that grows with patience. A love that hurts; a love that heals. In the midst of confusion and chaos, there was love at heart of the story.

What I didn’t like: None, actually. If there’s one thing I would have loved to know is what happened to Amadea’s mother and sister. But I do appreciate how Danielle Steel made the plot more realistic by not giving us that closure. Because back then, people were taken away… and no one never knew what happened most of the time.

Favorite quotes:

The essence of prayer is not to think a lot, but to love a lot.”

“Don’t hate anyone,” Beata said quietly. “It’s too much work. And it only poisons you.”

“I fear that once you put weapons in men’s hands, they don’t let go of them easily.”

Final Thoughts: This book is a reminder that we cannot escape the echoes of our past. But just as what Monika, Beata and Amadea did, we can always choose to live in the present and move forward. Overall, it’s an enjoyable first read for me. And I would definitely dare to try another Danielle Steel novel again.

Have you read Echoes? Did you like it as much as I did?

Book Talk: How do you beat reading slump?

I have not read for a while now. One of my bookmarks is stuck on page 60 of Atwood’s Alias Grace; the other is on page 12 of Ikigai.

I could not keep up.

My mind is in disarray. There’s a live wire inside of me that carries alternating concern and indifference. If I switch between the two, I’d short circuit either way.

A funny metaphor, I know. And probably erroneous too, but who would pay much attention to such mistake when the world has had enough of it?

How are you?
Are you living well?
I hope so…

This is me on my third try at getting back to life. It Cornwell’s From Potter’s Field this time.

Quick Notes: Contemporary YAs that once made my young heart flutter

Last night, for the first time after a long while, I opened my Goodreads account. How time flies… This is where I used to keep a real-time update on my reading progress before.

Now, it remains a quiet place of dusty virtual bookshelves.

In my boredom, I found delight in skimming my old posts — especially reading my thoughts on contemporary YAs. It brought me back to the time when I was most hopeless romantic. Still is (though a little older now). I’m grateful for these books for filling the gap in my lack of experience on love and heartaches. For inspiring some of my poems and short stories. For making my young hear flutter.

Hence, I’ve decided to share them here in WordPress. Perhaps, some people here needs a little extra cheese or a quick read. Hope this helps.

  1. The Awaken series by Katie Kackvisnky – A dystopia rather than a love story. This is how I would describe the Awaken series. It is set in 2060, a not-so-distant future, where human interaction is almost nonexistent due to the fact that everything can be done online. Kids attend digital school, friends and families get together virtually, shopping are done by the touch of a keypad, etc. These are imagined scenes that are slowly turning into reality in today’s world. A must-read in this digital era.
⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Life should be a risk. It’s more than a straight line that you can see clearly from one point to the other. It dips and curves and you never know what’s around the bend sometimes until you get there. That scares a lot of people. But that’s the beauty of it.” ―Awaken

Continue reading “Quick Notes: Contemporary YAs that once made my young heart flutter”

Quick Notes: Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Philosophy/Mental Health
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

This line from Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie perfectly summarizes Veronika Decides to Die for me.

Inspired by events from Coelho’s past life, this book tells the story of Veronika — a 24-year-old woman who seems to have everything anyone could ever ask for. Nonetheless, she feels dissatisfied and makes a decision to end her life. She lives and survives and finds herself in a mental asylum where her life completely change.

I finished Veronika Decides to Die last week but it took me a while to wrap my emotions around it. Not sure if it’s the timing, since I was going through another anxiety phase when I was reading it; or because I haven’t considered suicide yet; or because Veronika’s troubles hit very close to home.

Life and death are the central themes of the story, as are madness and conformity.

This book will make you ponder on the consequences of living a repressed life, one that conforms to the norms set by society or that is bounded by one’s own limiting beliefs. It will have you thinking about the days when you feel like Veronika (tired of your prosaic life), or Zedka (unable to keep your emotions at ease), or Mari (too afraid so you choose to escape the real world), or Eduard (constrained by other people’s demand and pressure). It will make you question your authenticity — and insanity.

What would I do if death comes sooner than I expected? Truth is, I don’t know. But just as Vilette is a “safe place” for these people to express themselves, I’d say poetry is my own. Perhaps through these poems, I’d get to figure out myself and life.

Overall, this novel left me more questions than realizations (which is a good thing). Looking forward to finding the answers as I live my numbered days. 😀

Wrap-Up | April 2021

May the 4th be with you!

…and also be with me because I badly need it in these lazy days. April went as swift as it arrived and here I am with a late monthly wrap-up.

So without further ado, here goes..

Things I’ve written…

April has been a busy month for me outside blogging. I have not written much this month, despite the world celebrating National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo).

Books I’ve read…

Started The Red Tent by Anita Diamant during the Holy Week and it was satisfying read up to the end. Wrote a review — Book Review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

As for my book haul, I received two copies of Atwood on World Book and Copyright Day from The Book Snoop. Those who know me well know that I’m impulsive when it comes to books. When I see it, I get it — so long as I find it a worthy deal. However, these two were the first ones that I waited longest. I completed the 30-day rule, a challenge I personally set (just because), before I decided to finally take them. Waiting was a roller-coaster of emotions. I was anxious. I was impatient. But in the end, all the wait was worth it!

  • The Blind Assassin (Php 249)
  • Alias Grace (Php 399)

Alias Grace, the miniseries, is also available on Netflix for those who prefer to watch the movie first before reading.

Places I’ve been…

Went on two day hikes this earlier in April. One in Liloan’s Lataban Hills, and the other along the Naga-Minglanilla loop.

Typhoon Surigae, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Bising, however, completely turned out plans around later on. We ought to visit Camotes Island but since sea voyages were suspended, we had to make a last-minute Plan B. We decided to go to San Remegio and spend the weekend at Maayo Resort, a Caribbean-inspired resort in this northwestern part of Cebu. It may not be the weekend we expected but it was definitely fun! 😁

Here are some videos from our trips.

Day Hike at Naga-Minglanilla Loop

Camotes Island Adventure Gone Wrong

Book Review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Genre: Historical Fiction/Religion/Feminism
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌖

Short Synopsis: Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood—the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers—Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah—the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.

What I Liked:

  1. Diamant’s writing. Poetic and lyrical were my reactions when I read the first few pages of the book. I love the tone of voice Diamant used for the main character Dinah. Her prose is very visual and animated. It felt like listening to a spoken word poetry.
  2. A breath of fresh air. I’m not a keen Bible reader. I am one of those who only knew Dinah as a name mentioned in the Bible. That is why I find it refreshing to read a fictional first-person narrative about her version of her life. Through the eyes of Dinah, we get an insight, if only re-imagined, of biblical times. We get to learn about their cultures, practices and way of life.
  3. The curiosities in the Red Tent. In the book, women we’re treated by men as subordinate — submissive, used, cursed — a scene still recognizable in today’s world. However, their resilience shines within the boundaries of the red tent, where I would say most of the interesting scenes happen. It is where women go during their periods (although I find it a little weird that all the women in the story has a synced cycle). In the red tent, the lives of women are kept alive through storytelling and memories. In the red tent, secrets, conversations and feelings are shared. In the red tent, you get a sense of how powerful women can be. Blood signifies both life and death, beginning and end, pain and pleasure, tears and joy. Such interesting things to ponder.

What I didn’t like: The book, in general, takes a feminist slant so I understand that the POVs are focused mostly on women. However, there were slightly biased depictions of men. Some lack character development, while others seem like trifling characters.

Favorite quotes:

“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully.”

“The painful things seemed like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.”

“Of all life’s pleasures, only love owes no debt to death.”

“I could not get my fill of looking.
There should be a song for women to sing at this moment (giving birth) or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment.”

“Death is no enemy, but the foundation of gratitude, sympathy, and art.”

“It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing.”

Final Thoughts: Captivating. Rich. Beautifully and poignantly penned. It may only be a fictionalized version but every page brims with life.

I’m glad that this novel did not end with forgiveness of sins and starting all over because some sins are far too great to be forgiven, more so forgotten. But not forgiving others does not necessarily means living every day with anger. This is what Dinah showed me. It is choosing to walk away from the bad and move forward. And, sometimes, the closure we seek cannot be found in others but within ourselves.

My reading heart is full.

Have you read The Red Tent? Did you like it as much as I did?

Wrap-Up | March 2021

Monthly Blog Update

We marched into the month of March to celebrate the true beauty and strength of women. Yet, across the world, the number of oppressed and abused women continues to climb at a fast rate. Here in the Philippines, incest and rape soared high during the pandemic. The culture of mysogyny and sexism is an all-day meal. It’s tiring.

And who would have thought, we’d have a dejavu of last year’s trauma. While the rest of the world is trying to move forward, my country — guess what — is still in chaos. There’s too much politics, greed and miscommunication. I could rant and list how fucked we are now but that won’t change a thing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that March has not been too great for me. Here’s a quick look back:

Things I’ve written…

Creative writing has been hard for me lately. My one and only poem this month was triggered by a recent issue about our Tatay Digs who was seen trying to touch his maid’s private part during his birthday. The palace, of course, defended the man and claimed there was “no malice.” The maid “laughed” and besides, the president’s wife was present. FTW.

Books I’ve read…

I’ve only managed to finish three books this month:

  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Famous Tales of Mystery and Horror by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Love and Misadventure by Lang Leav (re-read)

As for my book haul, I’ve finally got a copy of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (Php390 @purplephcloset)

Some bookish thoughts:

Places I’ve been…

My friends and I had another sea to summmit experience this month. We spent a weekend camping in a not-so-know mountain in Naga. Though I have nothing against sharing beautiful hiking/camping spots with others, I think it’s not ready for everyone yet. Like it or not, there will be irresponsible people who abuse nature. We need to continue reminding ourselves proper outdoor etiquette.

Respect nature and wildlife. Take your trash with you.

Now, moving onto April….

Quick Notes: Famous Tales of Mystery and Horror by Edgar Allan Poe

Genre: Short Story/Horror/Mystery
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Edgar Allan Poe’s first love as a writer was poetry, but he is often known for his short stories which present a cast of peculiar murderers and madmen. I remember reading The Cask of Amontillado during my grade school days. I used to read it over and over and, looking back, I think it was that very story which sparked my interest in the murder mystery genre.

Fast forward 20 years later, here I am rekindling my love for Poe’s fictions. Famous Tales of Mystery and Horror is like an reintroduction to me. The book is a collection of five classic stories — all of which masterfully told in only few words.

Here are my Goodreads entries for each of the tales:

The Telltale Heart (1843) demonstrates Poe’s command of language. He has a way of letting you into a madman’s mind.

The Masque of the Red Death (1842) depicts the inevitability of death and man’s reaction when confronted by it.

Fear. Denial. Rage. Poe, in very few pages, has captured the many follies of man in trying to escape death. This story is a reminder that despite the glares and glitters of life, of our piquancy and phantasm, we will always find death more bizarre.

The Oblong Box (1844) presents a common scene in today’s films. I must admit I saw what was coming in this story. Still, Poe’s descriptives are something to behold.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) was the first of Poe’s three tales of ratiocination which introduced logical reasoning as the method of solving a crime. With the creation of C. Auguste Dupin (the world’s first fictional detective), Poe outlined elements that future novelists, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, would adapt and rework.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue was precursored with talks about the game of chess and the mental prowess it requires a player. From then, I knew that it would be a detective story — and, indeed, a well told locked-room mystery it was.

The Purloined Letter (1844) is another story following the exploits of C. Auguste Dupin. It reminds me a lot of Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia with the elements of a missing letter and an anxious important person who wants to obtain it. We get a taste of the power of observation through Dupin, who saw above and below what authorities can. What this story taught me, in the end, was that the best way to keep something hidden is not to hide it.

Overall, Famous Tales of Mystery and Horror is a worthwhile read for every mystery-seeking bookworm out there. Can’t wait to read more of Poe’s works of fiction! 🤩

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