Book: Mr. Kiss and Tell

"Mr. Kiss and Tell"

The Neptune Grand has always been the seaside town’s ritziest hotel, despite the shady dealings and high-profile scandals that follow its elite guests. When a woman claims that she was brutally assaulted in one of its rooms, then smuggled out and left for dead by a staff member, the owners know that they have a potential powder keg on their hands. They turn to Veronica to disprove the woman’s story.

But the case is a convoluted mess. The accused employee is no longer in the country; the security footage shows the woman entering the hotel, but there is no evidence that she ever left; and the victim is someone from Veronica’s past who has no good reason to trust her. As Veronica works to fill in the missing pieces, the one thing that becomes clear is that a dangerous predator is still on the loose…and that he’s one step away from striking again.

Previously on Veronica Mars…

In our titular detective’s debut in print form, authors Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham re-established the world of Neptune, California. As Veronica took on a case very close to her heart–while also padding her wallet–she also took us on a tour of what her town looks like now: a little more grown-up and a little more corrupt, while continuing to feel like the same town we left more than ten years ago. We saw them set up how the father-daughter relationship between Veronica and Keith had matured, and we saw how Veronica is with friends Wallace and Mac. It felt like a reintroduction to the Veronica Mars world.

And now, we’re getting the second episode.

If The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line felt very much like an episode of Veronica Mars, Mr. Kiss and Tell feels even more so. In fact, it feels more Veronica Mars than the entirety of the television series’s third season. This time, we get an even more closer look at what Veronica’s life is now that she’s returned to Neptune. We see familiar names crop up: Weevil, Duncan, and even the Sinclairs; and we see Keith working with Cliff McCormack again to right the wrongs of the corrupt justice system that Don Lamb (who also gets a name check) started way back when he told Veronica to go see the Wizard.

Oh, and Logan also exists in this book.

But let’s begin with the things I loved about Mr. Kiss and Tell.

If the debut novel gave us twists and turns and red herrings galore, the second book presents a pretty clean-cut mystery. And while the mystery serves as the a-plot of the novel, the b-plot is the one that really pushes the novel to great heights. Now that authors Thomas and Graham have re-established the world, I feel like they’re pushing for Neptune to grow even further than what the television series (and the movie) allowed before. And while I grew not to be an advocate of this when Buffy went to the comics world, I can’t help but feel reassured with what Veronica Mars is doing. Mostly because Thomas and Graham are showing us the journey to a new Neptune. Mr. Kiss and Tell is the episode that bridges the pilot that sold viewers into trying a new series, and the rest of the series that populates and makes rich a whole new world.

We’re getting a whole new Neptune in print form! And the authors are using established characters to push that change!

Keith, Cliff, and Weevil take center stage in the b-plot that will create new dynamics in (hopefully) future novels. And this is the backdrop to the a-plot that takes Veronica back to who she was before she left for Stanford, to a past plot that wasn’t completely resolved in the series and creates wonderful tension in this novel.

And, unfortunately, it also underlines why I’m not a fan of Logan continuing to be part of the series.

Yes, I did say that I don’t mind the Logan-Veronica relationship. But I may have said that too soon. Mostly because the Logan in the Veronica Mars movie was dealt in small doses. We barely had any Logan in the first novel. Now that he’s present for most of the book, I feel like Thomas and Graham are scrambling to clean up a character that wasn’t a moral fit to Veronica.

Here’s the thing with actor chemistry. It messes up stories. Kristen Bell is wicked good, and Jason Dohring sparkles when he’s in scenes with her. I understand why the writers would want the two to keep interacting, and from there, it felt like natural progression for their characters to fall in love. But novels do not have the luxury of having actors sell their characters. In print form, Logan would’ve been just a jackass rich-douche who doesn’t deserve Veronica. But fans want them together. And the film promised them to be end game. And now we’re seeing a ret-con of the character. Well, what feels like a ret-con. I must commend Thomas and Graham for actually trying to explain the changes in Logan. But at the end of the day he doesn’t feel like Logan. He feels like a new character. A new character that, based on the callbacks to the past in the a-plot, Veronica Mars doesn’t really need.

Yes, you read me right. Veronica Mars doesn’t need a love interest.

What Veronica Mars needs though? Is more growth. In more future releases, whether in print or film form.

Book: The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

"The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had"

The last thing Harry ‘Dit’ Sims expects when Emma Walker comes to town is to become friends. Proper-talking, brainy Emma doesn’t play baseball or fish too well; but she sure makes Dit think, especially about the differences between black and white. But soon Dit is thinking about a whole lot more when the town barber, who is black, is put on trial for a terrible crime. Together, Dit and Emma come up with daring plan to save him from the unthinkable.

I’m a little on the fence about this one.

I do like the book. And by that, I mean I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. But now, trying to put down into words why I like the book? I… I can’t. I mean, the characters are standard, the events are commonplace…

Maybe it was the innocence.

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had is set in a time where racism isn’t politically incorrect. It’s an accepted fact. Although, let’s be real, racism is alive and well today still. Thing is, here, no one looks away when it happens. African-Americans are supposed to take it, look down, and just move away.

But it’s been a couple of generations since the emancipation. The children in this story are no longer aware of what happened in the civil war. Most of them have been raised with Africa-America neighbors, and while racism is unapologetic, the children doesn’t really know where it stems from. They’re slurs. Insults. It’s the adults in the story who are more caught up in the implications of inter-racial friendship, of an African-American girl headlining a school play from the white school.

The book’s main draw is friendship. It’s a simple enough theme that children of all ages can relate to it. But underneath the story of a boy’s realization that girls can be as cool as his male friends, that the girl he thought would become a hindrance is actually teaching him more about himself, is the politically-charged tension between the whites and the African-Americans.

The synopsis tells us that Dit and Emma have to come up with a daring plan to save an African-American from the unthinkable. It’s the why they have to that will surprise you.

Innocence makes one question the whys of the world, but it is also this innocence that gets us into trouble. And author Kristin Levine manages to weave a magical story about the importance of questioning, of crossing boundaries, and of growing up with our childhood innocence intact.

Check out what other people have written about The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had:
Kids Reads
Sprout’s Bookshelf
Rated Reads

Book: High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)

"High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)"

The unceasing rain muffles the screams of the victims being pulled down, down into the murky flood waterse.

In the places too high to be reached by teh flood, the party continues for the priviledged, who indulge in a new designer drug which grants them the supernatural abilities of enkanto and aswang.

These are the murders and mysteries Alexandra Trese needs to solve as the tide continues to rise at the stroke of midnight.

I subscribe to the belief that rain washes away the past and affords us new beginnings. And what better way to start a new beginning here at the blog than with a book that revolves around rainfall–and the things that come with it? Trese‘s sixth installment: High Tide at Midnight.

In this collection, the Trese siblings and their allies face off against the growing threat of evolved monsters–and paves the way for an actual big bad that sets out to make the world of Trese more complicated. And engrossing.

Now, I am not blind to the dissatisfaction some readers are feeling from the recent releases of Trese. Some readers feel like the novelty has worn off, and that the stories are too fast-paced. Rushed, even. Personally, I like the no-time-to-breathe storytelling that Trese employs. But I do see why there might be unrest with other readers.

Because as fast-paced as Trese is, there is still that unshakable feeling of statis. That no matter how dire things become, the status quo will remain the same. One, because the main characters are too invincible. And two, because you do not actually care about said main characters. Especially the titular one.

Alexandra Trese can die and you’ll only feel sad because it means Trese is probably done as a series.

Trese stories are fun because of how writer Budjette Tan and artist KaJO Baldisimo bring to life old mythological creatures in our modern world. But if the novelty is no longer enough for a reader, then I think the series has nothing else to offer.

Yes, I really mean that.

Trese, six installments in, is about the adventure and the action. It is not about the characters. If it were, our heroine Alexandra Trese wouldn’t be as one-note as she is. There would be more peripheral characters whose lives would actually be changed by the supernatural goings-on. And you will actually fear for the lives of said characters. Because we do not have these, any development that happens will be plot-related, and everything continues to feel… unmoving. Static. But fun. And thrilling. And still.

The sixth book is no exception. I love the introduction of the new one-note characters: the gruff guardian, the chaotic-good husband-and-wife team, the metal smith, and even Manang Muning. It all feels exciting. Especially when they fight with the flurry of sea monsters who want to take over the mortal world. But at the end of the book, there was no lesson to be learned. There was no emotion to be felt. Just exhilaration. And the desire to see what happens next, not because I cared, but because I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. How will the creators end the story? How else are they going to twist the world of Filipino mythology?

But I could care less if Trese 7 completely revolves around Maliksi and the Kambal. Or Hank defending the Diabolical while the Trese siblings take care of the action off-frame. I will still feel the adrenaline regardless of who is in the pages. The Trese siblings don’t make the Trese books. The modernized mythologies do. And while I continue to love it, I know and accept that I will also lose my interest in the series eventually.

Yes, I worry that if the creators don’t push the story beyond the plot twists and the big bad, then there will come a time when I will stop feeling excited for the new releases. And like with some of my friends, Trese will become just one of the comics I used to read.

Book: Kick-Ass 3

"Kick-Ass 3"

Teenager David Lizewski loved comic books and superheroes. So why couldn’t he be the hero?

He tried. Lacking training and armed only with a pair of batons, Lizewski foolishly donned a costume of his own design and took to the streets to stop crime. His reward for taking on a gang of thugs? A trip to intensive care after he got his ass kicked.

But after intense training from the black belt tween prodigy Hit-Girl, David became the hero known as Kick-Ass. And Kick-Ass went viral in the public consciousness. Overnight, seemingly everyone wanted to be a superhero.

And of course, every superhero needs and archenemy. Chris Genovese, mafia son and the super-villain known as Red Mist, raised an army and tried to raze New York’s Times Square. Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took them down…barely. But there were consequences: Superheroes were outlawed and Hit-Girl went to prison.

Now Dave must step up and lead the superhero team known as Justice Forever, just as a major threat appears on the horizon. Rocco Genovese, an old-school don whose weapon of choice is a golden pickaxe. He’s got 99 kill-notches on that axe. And he’s saving the 100th notch for someone very special.

I thought I was going to be able to predict the ending… I thought wrong. For a grim and gritty comic book series about the pratfalls of being a superhero in the real world, the series sure ended on a whimsical note. Not that I’m complaining. I like that the series ended on hope, even if not all the characters we’ve grown to know survived to the end.

But isn’t that what Kick-Ass has been about since it started? Superhero stories make it seem like everything will always be all right in the end. Even when the odds are obviously not in the hero’s favor. I mean, just take a look at the Superior Spider-Man title. Peter Parker died. Doctor Octopus took over his life. Thirty odd issues later and Peter’s back in his body, and the whole thing is about to get swept under a rug. So long as people need superheroes, they will always prevail. They will always get back up from their graves. Or, if they’re a DC title, they get rebooted for the nth time.

The best thing about Kick-Ass is that his creators, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., granted him something no other superheroes have: an expiration date. David Lizewski gets an actual ending. And that’s one of the biggest reasons why Kick-Ass will live on in fans’ hearts as a great work. Because the plots didn’t need stretching. Because the characters were allowed to grow, and to keep growing until they reached their natural end. And because no weird subplot had to be introduced just to keep the title alive.

There really isn’t a lot to say about Kick-Ass’s final foray into superheroics. It kicked ass. Spectacularly. And I will remember it fondly.

Book: Horns

"Horns"

Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician, the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star. Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more–he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone–raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances–and Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.

Now Ig is possessed of horns, and a terrible new power–he can hear people’s deepest, darkest secrets–to go with his terrible new look. He means to use it to find whoever killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge; it’s time the devil had his due.

It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. It’s… It’s more than I expected. And I already had expectations, after reading the equally astounding N0S4A2.

Knowing Joe Hill’s background, I always assumed I wouldn’t like his works. See, while I respect Stephen King and I love his premises, I was never a fan of his writing. I don’t know why. So when I picked up N0S4A2 before, it was with trepidation. After all, Joe Hill was being hailed as someone who is carrying on his father’s legacy. I was wary. But I ended up liking his style of writing. Horns, my second foray into Joe Hill’s world of horrors, cements the fact that he is not like his father at all.

Yes, he has Stephen King’s knack for creating a mythology so complete that anything that happens within the story is unquestionable. But in their handling of words, I would lean to Hill as being the more accessible one. Maybe because he has a younger voice, and has a better hold on how readers now take in words. But that can’t be true, right? After all, Stephen King continues to be widely read. More widely read than his son, if you think about it. But this is a topic that’s separate from Horns, and this is a post about said book, so let’s get on with the discussion.

Horns is a book of ironies: the devil performs miracles, while the good guy is awarded horns. And what I like about the book is that it plays with these ironies, it explores these characters, and we are not spoon-fed information about why something is happening. Things happen. Shit happens. And everything is taken in stride. The story is messy. Realistically messy. Nothing feels preordained, even when you think you know where the story is finally going.

I loved how Hill presented Ig as someone who doesn’t see himself as a good guy. He is presented as the most hated man in their community. And yet, as we get to know him, page by page, we decide for ourselves who Ig really is. That he isn’t the devil he’s being painted out to be.

And I love how Hill tackles the idea of people doing things that aren’t the things they want to do; that their innermost voice can say vicious things while presenting a virtuous front. It’s the idea of identity, and how we consciously shape how other people see us. And what happens when that ability, to create our own identity, is taken away from us.

Horns tells the story of Ig, but at one point in life or another, Ig has been us. Subjected to judgment by the court of public opinions. Given a verdict without the proper trial. And all we can do is to keep on keeping on. To live our lives despite what other people are saying. To give the effect of not being affected, while doing our best to set things right–to set us right.

Horns is a study of people at their most base form: as creatures who want to be liked.

Suffice to say, I loved the book and I think people who share my taste would too. If you find yourself agreeing with most of my reviews here at the blog, then this book is probably for you too.

But, if you need more opinions, then why not check these blogs out:
The Write Place
The Horror Hotel
Empires and Mangers