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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”

Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost

Featured poems and spoken word poetry

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another sireet,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right
I have been one acquainted with the night.


Sharing this piece from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost, who died on this day in 1963. Aside from The Road Not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Acquainted with the Night is infamous in its own right. This poem is an exploration of the dark side of the human psyche. It is about despair, loneliness and sadness — emotions that are often associated with the night. As we read this, may we find comfort as we stare at the “luminary clock against the sky.”

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: Portrait of a scared reader

Do you have a book that scares you? It could be of any genre but mostly it’s horror or suspense thrillers that raise some hairs.

Five years ago, on this day, I found and bought this book in Booksale (SM City Cebu). Fast forward to 2021, I still have not finished it.

Why? Nightmares — every. single. time. i. read. it.

I am a sucker for crime thrillers, books or movies. Give me gore, give me blood, give me mystery (so long as there is no paranormal involved). I also love watching and researching true crime stories. I am passionately interested in what goes into the mind of the mad. So, my experience with Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer honestly came as a surprise. I’ve had countless attempts of continuing the book which resulted to countless of nighttime terror too.

By 2018, I gave up. It’s not about Cornwell’s writing (I am a big fan of her Scarpetta series by the way). It’s just that the scanned letters, the sketches, the newspaper clippings and the police reports — they all felt so close. It’s different when you’re watching things on the screen. Touching the pages with my hand felt like Jack the Ripper breathing on my nape.

Will I ever get over this book? How do you deal with such fear? Hmm…

Old Whang-od

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Old Whang-od

Amid the verdant mountains
Wild rivers and slopes
Reside the countless culture
And the mambabatok

The tattoos etched on her skin
Flaunts beauty and grace
The history of headhunters
She wears on her face

Old Whang-od taps the bamboo
And the tattoo session begins
Officious tribal patterns—
Ethic outlines worth the pain

The tapping sound of bamboo stick
Sends a hum of thrill and fear
For at the end of the citrus thorn
The charcoal ink shall smear your soul

© 2017 Maria. All Rights Reserved.

Photo Credit: Lantaw


In response to dVerse’s Tuesday Poetics: Artisan.

Tending the bar for Poets Pub today is Kim who challenge us to write a poem about an artisan or wright emulating the style of Irish poet, Seamus Heaney.

This one is a tribute to the 99-year-old Whang-od who is considered as the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) from the Butbut tribe in Buscalan, Kalinga and the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines.

Head over here to join the fun:

dverse

Forget Them Not

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Forget Them Not
A Haibun

For more than a hundred years, I stood atop this unpolished granite which houses my remains. Dubbed as the Philippines’ national hero, I have been one of the most famous and photographed historical landmarks in the country. Go on, take a snap. Flash those wide smiles and share it with pride. But, please, remember. Remember that this bronze figure that I am now was once a man breathing the same air, basking under the same sun and staring at the same moonlit night. Remember what I lived and what I died for—our beloved Philippines. Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Three major islands united by blood. I didn’t fight for freedom so you could wage war against one another. I didn’t wield my pen so you could practice ignorance. I didn’t die for nothing. I breathed my last air with a hope for a breaking dawn after a long troubled night, a better future and an unwavering peace. Filipinos, I lived for you.

Winds of change passed by
Tainted ancient history—
Forget them not, please

© 2016 Maria. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Dennis Villegas 


In response to dVerse’s Tuesday Poetics: Chisel me a conversation

Poet’s Pub today is hosted by Lillian with her heart-breaking piece. We are to to find a sculpture and write in the voice of that sculpture — become either the artist who created the piece or the subject of the sculpture. So here I am writing in the voice of our country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

Interested? Join the band here!:)

dverse

Colossal Shame

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Colossal Shame
A Mythic fiction

“I refuse this humiliation, Salacia! It’s a colossal shame.” Neptune screamed, pointing at the statue perched atop the jagged rock near the beach.

Down in the land of mortals stood a towering statue that mirrored the god of the sea. It’s an enormous work of art that captured the attention of the world for its immense dominance.

Il Gigante, they call it. Il obbrobrio, I’d say! For years I didn’t squabble when they made me look like a slave carrying that chunk of concrete over my shoulder while they dance merrily above it. But this?!.”

Salacia couldn’t help but smile at her husband’s distress. He’s been complaining endlessly since they bombed his statue and left it an armless ruin. He wanted to summon the biggest wave to wash out the artwork that he called shame. “My husband,” she sighed, “You are as great as that statue withstanding the strongest storms for centuries. And look, even without its arms, it stood high and proud.”

“But I love my arms…” He trailed.

“So do I!” She laughed.

Word Count: 175 

© 2016 Maria. All Rights Reserved.


Glad to be back in the tale weaving world! YAY! ❤❤❤ Thanks PJ for another fun prompt. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Here is for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers prompt. This week’s photo prompt is provided by Mom the Obscure.

From what I’ve read,  this is a photo of Il Gigante (The Giant) located at the beach of Monterosso del Mare. The 14 meter high image of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, was originally built from concrete in 1910 to decorate the seaward edge of the elegant Villa Pastine. Allied bombs and rough seas have turned the once mighty century giant into an armless ruin. 

Neptune must be furious, you think? Hehe.

Enjoy more stories here:

Hoops

 

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Photography by Hideaway Girl

Dripping sweats, muscle strains, and beating hearts
The world stops for this game of dominance
Slam dunks, alley-oops, and fadeaways
Fluctuating figures on game charts
Hearts thumping; an otherworldly performance
Spinning world carved with names and legends
History forged in a hundred plays
Hearts and games; dribbling world never ends.


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Day 14: Today’s prompt comes to us from TJ Kearney, who invites us to try a seven-line poem called a san san, which means “three three” in Chinese (It’s also a term of art in the game Go). The san san has some things in common with the tritina, including repetition and rhyme. In particular, the san san repeats, three times, each of three terms or images. The seven lines rhyme in the pattern a-b-c-a-b-d-c-d.

Inspired by two major events on NBA history:

1) Steph Curry along with the Golden State Warriors, broke the all-time NBA record by winning their 73rd victory of the season, eclipsing the previous win record of 72 games held by the 1995-96 Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

2) Kobe Bryant finishes his farewell game  with a grandeur, scoring 60 points on 50 shots, in a win over Utah Jazz.

Heritage

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I am Guillermo Fransisco, commanding general of the Philippine Army’s 21st division, a patriot, a family man and a drifter soul— in layman’s term, a ghost.

For seventy-four years, I’ve guarded the forts of Corregidor, watched how the remnants of our battle slowly faded through time. This place, which once served as the battleground for freedom, is now considered a heritage site. Heritage. A term for the riches of the past passed from one generation to the other. I’ve heard all the stories from the tour guides but theirs were mere versions. Nobody lived to tell how the Fall of Bataan felt like.

Or if they lived, nobody dared to remember.


In response to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt. Friday Fictioneers is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields where a photo is used as a prompt for a hundred-word piece of fiction. The photo prompt is a courtesy of J Hardy Carroll. Thank you!

I have always had an affinity to old places and heritage sites. When I saw the photo prompt, it took me instantly to the battles of Bataan and Corregidor. This story is inspired by one of the Philippines’ unforgettable event, The Fall of Bataan. Seventy-four years ago, on April 9, 1942, eighty thousand Filipino and American prisoners of war were forced to walk their Death March.

Read more stories here:

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