Book: Turtles All The Way Down

"Turtles All The Way Down"

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russel Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russel Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

Confession time: I’m a bit biased when it comes to John Green. I liked the first book by him that I picked up. Everything that followed was a reflection of that first book, until The Fault in Our Stars. Which I also liked at the time of reading, but quickly outgrew. There was something that’s very adolescent in the way John Green wrote his characters, and they don’t hold up when you read them again a few years later. So when I picked up Turtles All The Way Down, I had low expectations.

Aza is not an easy character to relate with. Not at first. And my problem with this is the fact that she’s our gateway to this story. A character that questions the reality around her. It’s hard to grab hold of that. It’s like entering a fantasy world, and being told by your host that everything is fake. Not even unreal. Straight out fake. And it takes some getting used to. Especially since for the first few chapters, we are merely spectators in an expository journey.

And then Aza and Davis meet. Again, since in the story, they already had a shared history. Normally, this is where I put a pause on reading to question the author’s motives. Really? We finally see chinks in our character’s armor when she meets the love interest? But Aza doesn’t see Davis as a love interest. Not yet. She sees in him a kindred spirit. It helps that they have a built-in history. One that we get to slowly rediscover with the characters.

With Davis, his father’s disappearance, and the complications their reconnecting brings, the story begins to pick up speed.

The characters begin to feel real.

Somewhere between Chapters three and six, I realized that I couldn’t put down the book anymore. I realized I related to Aza, and Daisy, and Davis–and yet none of them are stereotypes of a character. In my head, I began to debate the pros and cons for the possible endings to the relationships that the book was presenting.

The book became engaging. Unlike previous John Green books that felt paint-by-numbers, Turtles All The Way Down was pushed by chaos, by circumstances that was inherent to the characters and the plot, but never felt like a driving force even as they push the story forward.

And I love how the book deals with certain issues realistically. Maturely. And I like how the book ends with a promise.

Turtles All The Way Down lives up to the hype.

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Book: Moriarty

"Moriarty"

Days after Holmes and Moriarty disappear into the Reichenbach Falls’ churning depths, Frederick Chase, a senior investigator at New York’s infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency, arrives in Switzerland. Chase brings with him a dire warning: Moriarty’s death has left a convenient vacancy in London’s criminal underworld. There is no shortage of candidates to take his place–including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.

Chase is assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones, a Scotland Yard detective and devoted student of Holmes’s methods of deduction, whom Conan Doyle introduced in The Sign of Four. The two men join forces and fight their way through the sinuous streets of Victorian London in pursuit of this sinister figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, who is determined to stake his claim as Moriarty’s successor.

Three years ago, I wrote that The House of Silk was Anthony Horowitz’s best work–even if it didn’t feel like a proper Sherlock Holmes novel. Which was fine, because at the end of the day, it was a fun read.

I wish I could say the same for Moriarty.

It took me two weeks to finish the book, putting the book down after every chapter because I just couldn’t muster enough interest to continue reading.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that none of the characters are familiar nor likable. I mean, Frederick Chase comes off very dumb for a supposed senior investigator, and Athelney Jones is trying too hard. And they don’t feel like fleshed-out characters, especially since they keep name-checking Sherlock Holmes and John Watson every chance they get.

But even if you replace Athelney and Frederick with Sherlock and Watson, I don’t think it would make any difference. The whole story itself doesn’t feel right; as if it overstayed its welcome.

And then there’s how the novel was wrapped up. I don’t think I’ve ever been this worked up about how a book ended. And not in a good way.

I mean, I’ve already suspected that there were external forces at play in the sidelines of the story. But the way it was revealed felt like a forced a-ha moment. It took away whatever good will I had left for the novel.

Moriarty is a very disappointing read.

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: Ang Lihim ng San Esteban

"Ang Lihim ng San Esteban"

Unang beses na magbabakasyon si Jacobo sa San Esteban sa Ilocos, at magkahalong pananabik at kaba ang dala ng biyahe papunta sa probinsya ng mga magulang niya. Siguradong marami siyang matutuklasan tungkol as kasaysayan ng kaniyang pamilya mula kay Lola Carmen! Ngunit hindi niya inaasahang may mas malaking lihim sa mga lumang bahay at multo ng San Esteban. Ang mga ito kaya ang susi sa misteryong pilit na ikinukubli ni Lola Carmen?

Quick translation: It’s Jacobo’s first time to visit San Esteban in Ilocos, and he’s feeling a mix of nervousness and trepidation about the trip; wondering if the town would live up to the stories he’s been told growing up. But what he didn’t expect was that he would discover a big secret about a house in San Esteban. A secret that his own grandmother is working hard to keep.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but whatever it was… It wasn’t what the book turned out to be. Although, to be fair, I think I already judged the book in the first chapter–when the author made a twelve-year old travel to a provincial town he’s never been to on his own. Now, unless this was a recounting of real events, I see no reason why he couldn’t have been taken there by his parents.

It all goes downhill for me from then on. Jacobo isn’t really developed as a character. If I’m to compare him to someone from current literature, he’s a Bella Swan. He exists solely to become an anchor for readers to attach to. His inquisitiveness is his only redeeming trait, and that’s only because we need him to be inquisitive for the story to move forward.

The book introduces many characters with potential to make the main story more… engaging. But the author drops the ball on all of them. The town jokester who turns out to be really friendly with the nuns is wasted as he becomes a sidekick to our bland hero, and the mysterious clairvoyant appears only once–to make us think that something ominous was about to happen–only for that warning to actually ruin the story because suddenly our hero is trapped in a house with nowhere to go.

That is, until he decides to break rules. And by then, it’s already too late. We’re already 80% into the story, and the remaining pages only serve to wrap up a mystery that never became mysterious in the first place.

I wish I could say something more positive about this book. I really do. But I’ve already sat on this book for two weeks now. I can’t think of anything nice to say about the book. Nothing at all.

But the folks over at Good Reads seem to have found something to like about the book. So why don’t you also check out what they have to say? Maybe I missed something.

Book: Dwellers

"Dwellers"

Rule No. 1: You don’t kill the body you inhabit. Rule No. 2: You should never again mention your previous name. Rule No. 3: You don’t ever talk about your previous life. Ever.

Two young men with the power to take over another body inhabit the bodies and lives of brothers Jonah and Louis. The takeover leads to a car crash, injuring Jonah’s legs and forcing them to stay in the brothers’ house for the time being.

The street is quiet. The neighbors aren’t nosy. Everything is okay.

They are safe, for now.

Until they find a dead body in the basement.

Exciting. That was what I thought when I read the back synopsis. And, well, reading the book was an emotional roller-coaster for me. And not in a good way.

The first few chapters bored me. I understand the need to pace the readers for the mythology of body swapping in a Philippine setting, but I couldn’t stand the main character. He was bordering on whiny, and his woe-is-me act took the pages that should’ve been given to universe-building. And it’s not like I’m looking for an explanation for the ability to swap bodies. I’ve read Every Day. I liked Every Day. What I needed was investment. I needed to invest on the main character, and I couldn’t do it. I preferred the other guy. The quiet one. The one who did things. I probably would’ve liked this book better had it been told from the other guy’s perspective.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

From being bored at the start, I became curious as to what was up with the dead body. A positive change. This was the book’s promise. The premise. To hell with the lack of emotional pull, the mystery might be enough. Except, it’s not. The detective work was done by the other guy, not the main character. Because our main character is stuck in a wheelchair. Yes, he’s in a wheelchair. And it’s one of the main reasons why he can’t be on the move. And while I understand the need for the character to feel trapped, as a reader, I didn’t want to be trapped with him.

I was promised a mystery, and I was getting a whiny narration about being trapped in something I had no control over.

And then, suddenly, there were spells. And there was an extensive back story that, I felt, wasn’t really needed except to push the plot along, to give a sense of urgency to a meandering storyline that was clearly going to end soon.

Curiosity became annoyance. I was annoyed at the digression. I didn’t care for the past lives. It didn’t feel important. It felt tacked on. It was taking time away from what was more important. The dead body. The mystery. And, then, finally, the digression was done. We were back to the main storyline. And from being annoyed, I just became angry.

The mystery wasn’t solved. It was cut. The answers were given without further ado, just so the whole thing can be wrapped up. It felt like an episode of Scooby Doo, except, without the fun factor.

I felt gypped.

And while I think I understood the exercise in futility and the feeling of entrapment, which might be the book’s themes–I still finished that book with a feeling of disgust. The book did not deliver on its promise. The book did not live up to Project 17.

I seem to be the only one who wasn’t a fan though. The Last Girl, in her very short reaction, liked the book enough to gush about it. And Good Reads users have rated the book 3.91 stars out of 5. So this could just be me.