Book: The Mystery of Valehollow

"The Mystery of Valehollow"

Welcome to Valehollow Estate.

Genius Detective Lorelai Wang and her assistants Chloe Karan and Dr. Mara Spencer have been summoned to the ancient mansion. Their mission: find the missing millionaire, Austin Sisley, and uncover the mysterious forces troubling Valehollow Estate.

As Lorelai delves deeper into the estate, myths become reality, and supernatural forces begin appearing. Strange happenings and sightings abound, and soon Detective Lorelei begins to question not only the case itself, but her own sanity.

On the one hand, I have to applaud the creation of a local choose-your-own-adventure book. It’s well-paced, it’s thrilling, and you really don’t know what you’re going to get every time you make a decision that will alter the course of your chosen story. For that alone, I would recommend this book to any kid or anyone to read with their kids. But we both know I don’t just stop there when I write about a book I read–

My main problem with The Mystery of Valehollow is this: I really, really didn’t like the audience surrogate: Lorelai Wang. I find her obnoxious and full of herself–and I found myself rolling my eyes at the things she says and does…unless she does it out of a reader’s decision. That’s the only time I’m okay with her decisions. But for the most part? I wish we could’ve had the Mara Spencer character as the lead instead. She might be a know-it-all, but she’s not as annoying self-aware of her genius.

And then there’s the girl friday–best friend Chloe. As a comic relief, she doesn’t work. Mostly because she’s nonsensical. But whenever she’s in the picture, I keep finding myself confused as to what is actually happening, and if her opinions has anything to do with what is actually happening in the novel.

Hating on the two characters we spend the most time on actually makes me feel bad. Because it makes The Mystery of Valehollow seem a bad book, when it’s only the two characters who are insufferable due to their too quirky and too over-the-top personalities. The rest of the book is fine–especially for a book written with kids in mind (I’m assuming.) It has the right amount of adventure, a right amount of problem-solving, and it really tests one’s observational skills. (Also, the artworks from artist Jed Siroy are properly creepy when it needs to be.)

I guess I’m only hoping now that if another Lorelai Wang Case File book comes out–writer Ace Vitangcol would tone down Lorelai’s annoying traits… And maybe find a new best friend for the self-aggrandizing hero.

Book: Career of Evil

"Career of Evil"

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible–and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out…

Career of Evil is the latest novel in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellaccott. This fiendishly clever mystery, with unexpected twists around every corner, is also the gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

The last time I had forsaken sleep for a book was when I was reading Harry Potter. The Goblet of Fire came out on a Saturday, but I was only able to pick it up on Sunday–and I read it until the wee hours of Monday morning; thanking my lucky stars that the classes were suspended while I was about to get ready for school without sleep.

It’s been more than a decade since I found a book that I would forsake sleep for, and it had to be another one of J K Rowling’s.

Career of Evil is definitely a page-turner, with each new plot development pushing you to keep reading–to keep picking at the clues to find out who the murderer is. So engaging is the mystery that I kind of resented the parts that dealt more with Robin’s and Cormoran’s relationship.

Frankly, I don’t want Cormoran and Robin getting together. I don’t want any of the unnecessary drama that’s bound to bring. The Cormoran Strike series is my one escape where I don’t really have to deal with a romantic subplot between the leads. Not that it hasn’t been alluded to in the first two books, but I liked how Rowling– Excuse me, Galbraith– didn’t really dive into that unwanted detour.

Of course, I didn’t want Robin to end up with a wanker like Matthew Cunliffe either, but that’s drama I can do with. Because it presents a nice dilemma for a character to have her domestic life and career clash. Although… I do want to punch Matthew in the face every single time he appears on page.

But let’s not devote any more time to a love story that’s never going to happen (I hope). Let’s focus instead on the better plotting (and pacing) of the third Cormoran Strike novel:

Unlike with the cases of Lulu Landry and Owen Quine, the third mystery from the series is a bit more personal for our heroes. Which I really like. Mostly because we get to learn more about the mysterious Cormoran who hasn’t revealed much about his person in the first two books. We’ve always known more about Robin. Career of Evil changes that a bit–especially with the roster of suspects we are presented with, who all have connection to who Cormoran was and sort-of shaped who he became.

The best bit about Career of Evil though? Because the suspects are all people Cormoran have already dealt with before, we quickly get insights and assessments about each character–allowing us to play detective better alongside our heroes.

This is the most fun I’ve had reading a detective novel; actively guessing which of the suspects is the real culprit, using the clues and circumstances that Galbraith presents to allow the readers to solve the mystery with or without Cormoran’s or Robin’s help. And you will be able to guess who the culprit is before the book reveals his identity. Because Galbraith doesn’t hold back on the clues and the evidence. He puts them all down on paper.

If you’ve ever dreamed of being a detective, or being an investigative reporter–but want none of the risks that go along with said professions? This is the book for you. It’s exhilarating, enthralling, and most importantly, entertaining.

And I can’t wait to see what Galbraith has in store for us in his next Cormoran Strike novel.

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 Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

"The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line"

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappearance from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

I’ve been looking for this book for ages! Okay, that’s an exaggeration: the book has only been out for a couple of months. But I was starting to lose hope that I’d find it here in the Philippines. So… Much thanks to National Bookstore in Quezon Avenue for stocking up on books that no one else has heard of… and books that should get more attention. Like this one.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is Veronica Mars’ debut on print form. I was a little scared at first, I admit. Novels based off television franchises tend to not match the show we loved watching. Thankfully, Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas is also a novelist. And he’s co-writing the series of books that follow the events of Veronica Mars the movie. And the book is crackling with the wit and zingers that made me love the television series.

Mystery-wise, the novel follows the format that an episode of Veronica Mars would employ in delivering the clues, the twists, the red herrings, and etcetera. And this is one of the things I really loved while I was reading the book. Rob Thomas and co-writer Jennifer Graham didn’t go crazy with the story-telling just because they’re no longer limited by production budgets. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line will fit right as an episode of Veronica Mars the TV series because it didn’t go big–it went right back to what fans loved about the show: Veronica being Veronica.

Another things I would like to rave about in A Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is how the writers developed the father-daughter relationship that was central to the television series. How they act around each other felt like a natural progression of where the television series and the movie left off. Veronica’s relationship with friends Wallace and Mac also felt natural, and don’t feel in any way tacked on.

I do have a request though: I hope we get to meet some new people in Veronica’s life too. We meet a Stanford professor in this book, but what about classmates? Friends? Enemies? I would also like to see Duncan and Piz show up again. The former, just to see how much Veronica has grown as a person, and the latter, to help us fill in the missing years in Veronica’s life.

And lastly, and I might be alone in this, I loved how we didn’t have a lot of Logan. Although I preferred Veronica to end up with Piz, I’m not against the Veronica-Logan relationship. But their relationship also tend to take away from the drama of whatever mystery Veronica is solving when they’re together, so I’m glad that Logan took a backseat in this story. Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham are reestablishing the status quo, it’s nice to see that love–however epic–is not their first priority in a female-centric mystery series like this one.