Book: Corpse in the Mirror

"Corpse in the Mirror"

Remember Voices in the Theater, and how I didn’t like the book? Well… I read the second book. Why would I do that, you ask? Well, because I made the stupid mistake of buying the second book before I bought the first one. Like I did with the Twilight saga. So instead of letting the book go to waste, I decided to give A.S. Santos’s trilogy another try.

Samantha Davidson’s powers have been growing. Now, not only can she hear other people’s thoughts, but she can also sometimes see things through others’ eyes. They aren’t much—momentary glimpses, really—but these are dark things. Twisted things. Things she can’t bear to watch. But since she is the only one who can see them as they happen, she may be the only one who can prevent them from happening again.

Putting the book down, the first thing I thought was–this book is more cohesive than the first one was: from the way the story was structured, to the novel uses its characters, all the way to how it handles religion. That said, I still feel like it suffers the same crisis of faith as its predecessor.

But let’s start with the good things.

Although we don’t learn more about our main protagonist in Corpse in the Mirror, we do see a development in her relationships with the other characters–from her family, to the other members of the organization she’s with, and the guys she’s being paired with. One of the most noticeable differences in the two books is that Samantha is no longer left alone for stretches of time. She’s always interacting with someone, and that helps readers know more about who Samantha is without having to write paragraphs upon paragraphs of exposition.

There’s also less spotlight on characters who don’t actually do anything to propel the story forward. The first book had a few characters introduced who ended up not really contributing anything to propel the story forward, and it was really frustrating thinking about how we wasted pages on getting to know them, only for them to not really matter at all. This book has streamlined the characters to just the essential; and though we do get to meet new people, it never feels like they’re taking up valuable time away from the main players.

The romantic subplot and dilemma doesn’t feel forced. Although one of my biggest problems with the first book is carried over, in that our protagonist Samantha is inexplicably besotted with an angel, the conflict we actually get in this book doesn’t really stem from said angel. Author A.S. Santos actually offers two viable options for Samantha to agonize over, and you can understand why she can fall in love with either one.

And the best part about said subplot? It actually supports the main storyline of Samantha seeing a corpse in a mirror, and doesn’t take away from the actual problems that the protagonist is facing.

Corpse in the Mirror actually makes me want to read the book that follows it. Which I will. But before I do, I want to talk about my number one problem with A.S. Santos’s trilogy.

Religion.

I am not a religious person. And I love that Samantha is agnostic. It opens her character up to readers who aren’t of the Catholic persuasion. And I also love that Author Santos actually posits the problematic relationship of the paranormal with religion through our main character and several peripheral characters in the book. The problem is being addressed. But that doesn’t mean the problem is actually being resolved.

Because at the end of it all, we know we’re never really going to be able to separate faith, superstition, and the supernatural. Especially here in the Philippines. So I feel like being upfront about Samantha’s lack of religion is something the author can look into in future printings of the book. Lean into the fact that Samantha isn’t just dealing with the paranormal for the first time, in a foreign land. But that she’s also doing so with no religious affiliations, and that it’s one of the things the book tackles.

As it is, I think one of the reasons why I was able to appreciate Corpse in the Mirror more than the first book in A.S. Santos’s trilogy is because I am fully aware of the religious leanings of the story now.

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Book: Smaller and Smaller Circles

"Smaller and Smaller Circles"

Payatas, a 50-acre dump in northeast Manila, is home to thousands of people who live off of what they can scavenge. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city whose law enforcement is stretched thin and rife with corruption. So when the eviscerated bodies of preteen boys begin to appear in the trash heaps in the rainy summer of 1997, there is no one to seek justice on their behalf–until two Jesuit priests, forensic anthropologist Father Gus Saenz and his protege, Father Jerome Lucero, take the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands.

Ever since I started this blog, I’ve been trying to absorb more of what I’m consuming–whether it be a book or a movie, I try my best to learn from it. That way, I come out of the experience a little better.

In the case of Smaller and Smaller Circles though, I just put down the book wanting to stop everyone I know so I can tell them to read it. I wanted to share my joy at having read a book, one written by a fellow Filipino, that doesn’t turn the Philippines into a circle of hell, or idealize it too much that it’s no longer recognizable, or ignore it to the point that you forget the story is set in the Philippines.

It’s integral to the plot, the crime, and the consciousness of the killer that the setting be the Philippines. Certain cutting of red tape are only plausible because the story is set in the Philippines. The tragedies are bleak yet the hope is strong, and all of it is understandable because of how the Philippines is as a country.

And I’ve never realized how lacking other Filipino authors can be when dealing with our country, until now. We keep wanting to present the best of what the Philippines can be. Some want to highlight the poverty that is rampant in our country. Smaller and Smaller Circles just presents it as is. It is unapologetically Filipino without needing to rub the readers face in its identity.

Then there are the characters. Yes, forensic anthropologists in the Philippines sound made up–but they are real. Regardless of the career though, Father Gus Saenz’s most notable trait is his humanity. Both he and Father Jerome Lucero feel real because they’re not cardboard cutouts of what protagonists are supposed to be. They have normal conversation, they have fears–but they strive to do good.

It sounds simplistic to want to root for characters who want to do good. But consider the fact that I am writing this in 2017, where we’ve been bombarded with so many bad news and worsening global conditions. Can’t we all use a bit of good? And we get a double dose in Fathers Gus and Jerome.

There are other characters in the book, each one offering a different point-of-view into the crime. Every single one wanting to solve the crime for reasons that are both personal and professional. Some of them are infuriating, some of them less so. All of them have one goal though: to do a little good. Even if it’s a little misguided, a little unorthodox–or a little selfish. They are relatable. Understandable, even at their most despicable.

They make the novel richer. They make the crime that needs solving… something more.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is both terrifying and heart-breaking. It’s fast-paced, and it will get your blood pumping with the way author F H Batacan unravels the mystery. But when you get to the heart of the story–its horror lies in the fact that the crime is very plausible. That it really can happen. That it actually might have happened while we’re safely cocooned in our blissful ignorance. And when it’s done making your skin crawl, it will break your heart.

I’m going to stop there, lest I write something down the ruins the surprise. Let’s just say that Smaller and Smaller Circles is one of those books that you have to read as soon as you have the time.

Or, if you really can’t find the time, you can walk into any theater next week, beginning December 6, and catch Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero bring the characters to life in the film adaptation of the novel.

You won’t regret it.

Book: The Cuckoo’s Calling

"The Cuckoo's Calling"

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s complex world, the darker things get – and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .

It took me days, but I finally finished the debut novel from detective novelist Robert Galbraith. I liked it. I loved it near the end, yes. But for the purposes of this post? I’m sticking with ‘I liked it.’

Before we begin, yes I do know that Robert Galbraith is really J K Rowling. Truth be told, the reason why I bought the really long novel (and ploughed through it an hour a day) was because of that fact. Finishing the book though, it would be a disservice to the book if I write about it in relation to Rowling–or her other more famous series.

I would, of course, get to that later. First, I just want to talk about the book.

The first thing I want to say about the book is this: I want a second one. If that’s good, I’ll want a third one too. I really, really like Cormoran Strike and his plucky assistant Robin. They’re exceptionally well-written, very concrete. So much so that I can actually envision them in my head while reading the novel.

I really like how the other characters are written too. There’s a sense of realness to them that isn’t always present in book characters. And this is just one of the reasons why I really enjoyed reading The Cuckoo’s Calling. Why I made sure to clock in an hour of reading amidst the deadlines I had to meet.

Although I’m not a fan of the book’s length, I don’t think I would take any part of it out. Every single part of the narrative played a part in the mystery we were unraveling. A mystery that was truly–

How do I say this?

The resolution of the mystery wasn’t shocking. It’s not original (and our main protagonist even says so himself). But it is so well-handled that it feels fresh. The story was written in such a way that we are not being pushed from plot point to plot point. We progressed through the story with our main characters.

I’m normally a stickler for jumping perspectives. I hate it. But with this novel, I found it charming. I wanted to know what was going on with Robin just as much as I wanted to find out what’s happening next in Strike’s investigation. And you can tell that there is care in the way the two are being handled. That there is love.

You can’t help but love the two characters. And that’s half of the battle right there. Because when you care about the characters, when you’re hooked and wanting to find out what happens to them, then it doesn’t matter if the story’s rubbish.

Thank goodness it’s not though. The story is stellar. And this is where I relate The Cuckoo’s Calling to Rowling’s more famous series.

I grew up with Harry Potter. And when you’re following a series (and you end up with a lot of time), you can’t help but read way too much between the lines. You want to see if the author has written clues as to what will happen next. And Harry Potter did not disappoint. There are plot points in the second book that becomes very important in the sixth installment.

This, I think, has made Rowling very adept at crafting an amazing mystery novel. As soon as the mystery is introduced, clues are being planted. As we go from one story to another, we also gain a bigger understanding of what’s happening and what happened. And by the time we solve the mystery, you know it couldn’t have ended any other way.

J K Rowling, or Robert Galbraith, has given us a wonderful new world to play in. I hope she continues with it, because I want to see more of the world that Cormoran Strike and Robin inhabits. And I want to know what happens next for the two.

Check out what other people have said about the book:
GMA News Online
‘Ow Am Yau?
The Boar

And other interesting reads from:
The New York Times
New Statesman

Book: Dead of Night

"Dead of Night"

A prison doctor injects a condemned serial killer with a formula designed to keep his consciousness awake while his body rots in hte grave. But all drugs have unforeseen side effects. Before he can be buried, the killer wakes up. Hungry. Infected. Contagious. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang…but a bite.

I was going to say something about this book in relation to a series of books that author Jonathan Maberry has written. And then I realized how much a spoiler that was going to be. So I’m going to hold that thought back and give you my assessment of this book without relation to any other stories.

The book was nice. Better as it came closer to its end, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t good before then. Well, it was a tad slow-paced. Much slower paced compared to Maberry’s other books. But, in this case, it helped in establishing character.

Weird thing though–

The events described in this book all happened within a day. It felt much longer. The book, after all, only kicked into high gear near the end.

But I still liked it.

My gripe against Michael Grant’s Gone books, with its series of red shirts who die as soon as they’re introduced, gets turned in its head in this book. We get red shirts, and they too die way too quickly; but while they don’t provide traction to the development of the characters we’re following, they don’t detract from them either. In fact, their little stories help in coloring this world in better.

Later on, this even serves as a character upgrade for one of the main protagonists.

My other gripe against the Gone series, with its some times too separate story lines is how, in this book, the stories are still tied together at its core. There are no separate concerns that one set of characters are involved in that doesn’t, in one way or another, connect to the concerns of the other characters.

If there’s anything to complain about in this book, it’s that we don’t get as many updates on a couple of peripheral characters who play a bigger part near the end.

Oh, and the missing time between a certain character’s disappearance to his reappearance later on in the book. This touches on a whopper of a spoiler though, so I don’t know how I’m going to discuss this…

Basically, a character leaves. Starts moving. And yet ends up in a place that another character reaches in a shorter time. While partly walking there. I’m sure there’s an explanation, but I thought the ribbon was a bit too perfectly tied on that bow.

I realize that that statement makes absolutely no sense unless you’ve already read the book. Which you should.

Don’t believe me? Then check out what other people have to say too!
Fantasy Book Critic
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Enough is Enough

And I just realized how I started with I’m not going to compare this to other books and proceeded to do that anyway. Oops.

Book: The House of Silk

"The House of Silk"

London, 1890. 221B Baker Street. A fine arts dealer named Edmund Carstairs visits Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson to beg for their help. He is being menaced by a strange man in a flat cap–a wanted criminal who seems to have followed him all the way from America. In the days that follow, Carstair’s home is robbed and his family is threatened. And then the first murder takes place.

The House of Silk brings Sherlock Holmes back wiht all the nuance, pacing, and almost superhuman powers of analysis and deduction that made him the world’s greatest detective, in a case depicting events too shocking, too monstrous, ever to appear in print…until now.

The House of Silk is the first Sherlock Holmes novel I’ve read that isn’t written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and while this is Anthony Horowitz’s best work (among his books I’ve read, I mean), it doesn’t really feel like an authentic Holmes novel.

Don’t get me wrong: Horowitz does get the time period right, and more importantly, he doesn’t deviate from the established characters of either Holmes or Watson–although, I must say his Watson is a lot more sentimental than what I remember from the stories I’ve already read.

What really sets The House of Silk apart as not a Doyle-written Sherlock Holmes novel is that it’s written for today’s readers.

I’m not saying that the original stories of Sherlock Holmes are slow-paced. They’re not. But neither were they written with the mindset that a reader can and will put a book down if they don’t find it engaging. Books today are written to be far more accessible, and thus, there is more competition.

The House of Silk is a fine novel, and author Horowitz makes a great attempt at emulating the voice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But it is just that: an attempt. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the author had decided to give his own take on Sherlock Holmes–kind of like what Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had done with their BBC drama series. Personally, I find the drama series more to my liking that the two blockbuster films featuring Robert Downey, Jr. because it’s more fresh and more interesting because of its new angle on the characters.

Then again, there’s the new Sherlock Holmes series Elementary that I feel took things too far. I love Lucy Liu, but John Watson should have stayed a guy. If they really wanted a strong female presence in the show, they could have chosen Mrs. Hudson (who is very bad-ass in her own way) or Irene Adler. But, I digress.

Going back to The House of Silk, it’s worth the price of the book and it is a fun read. But if you’ve already read a few of the original Sherlock Holmes novels, the challenge falls on not comparing this book to the ones Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote.

Reviews for Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk:
Visceral Observations
Rivers I Have Known
Vintage Frills
YouTube Review: Rawesome4815

Book: Seeds of Rebellion

"Seeds of Rebellion"

Jason Walker needs to find a way back to Lyrian. Rachel remains stranded there, and Jason has precious information that the friends he left behind must learn in order to have any hope of surviving and defeating the evil emperor Maldor.

When he finally succeeds in returning to the strange and imperiled world, Jason immediately finds himself in more danger than ever as the most wanted fugitive on the continent. Meanwhile, Rachel has begun to discover new abilities of her own that may prove vital against Maldor’s tyranny.

In the aftermath of a failed quest, a new mission arises–to assemble the remaining heroes of Lyrian. Can the necessary allies be convinced before the emperor crushes the young uprising? Jason, Rachel, and their band of battered heroes will face new enemies and demanding obstacles as they strive to launch a desperate rebellion.

Look, I know  “to assemble the remaing heroes of Lyrian” sounds better than “to assemble the remaining unconquered people of Lyrian,” but talk about misleading information! Number one, the first book of the Beyonders trilogy is entitled A World Without Heroes. Meaning there are no heroes left, save for Jason and Rachel who come from the Beyond. Number two, even within the book itself, there are no “battered heroes,” just a group of unlikely individuals who have to band together for a common goal.

Sure, we can argue that Galloran, the Blind King, is a hero. And almost all of the characters we meet have heroic qualities–to a fault, actually. But to call them “a band of battered heroes” is too much, I think.

That said, I didn’t enjoy this second book as much as I did the first one. The characters have a tendency to sound the same, and the new parts of Lyrian that our protagonists are exploring doesn’t seem all that original. Which is odd, because I thought the first book had a good handle on originality–and on separating the characters.

To be clear, none of the characters are the same. They all have their own personalities. My only problem with them is how they talk. If you pull a quote from the book, you would have no inkling as to which character could have said it. There were no “we could all have been killed – or worse, expelled” dialogue in this particular book. Or in the series, for that matter.

And I’m not talking about having memorable lines, just to clear that up. I’m talking about distinct dialogue that you can attribute to a single character. Jason, Drake, Ferrin and the Blind King have a tendency to have the same manner of speaking. The only thing that sets Jason apart from the three are the doubts (which Ferrin also exhibits in one of the chapters), and the our-universe lingo that Rachel–and even Nia–employs. The only thing that sets Corinne apart from Rachel is the fact that she’s seeing everything for the first time–and even those dialogue echo the ones Rachel exhibited in the first book. And let’s not even start on the seedpeople. The only one whose dialogue is really distinct from the others is Nollin–and that’s because he’s the only coward in the group.

Which, brings me to my next problem with the book. Inconsistency of character. Nollin is the perfect example, actually. He’s set up as a former chief military advisor of the seedpeople, and yet he’s played off as a cowardly comic relief during the adventures. The seedpeople are characterized to be very smart people, and the author does a good job setting up the opposing views on war with a lot of smart arguments from both sides in one of the chapters. If Nollin is as comically cowardly as he is characterized, how in the world was he allowed to be a military advisor? And if the author didn’t intend for Nollin to be comically cowardly–why did he come off as such?

Seeds of Rebellion is a good adventure book: the action scenes are solid, the journeys are well-plotted, and it doesn’t forget the events of the first book. But as far as young adult fiction go, it’s definitely not one of the best. Character is key, and none of the characters seem to be lovable, or at the least, relatable. Quite a far fall from the first novel where you were rooting for both Jason and Rachel to succeed, so they could go back home.

I still plan on reading the last book from the trilogy though. Out of goodwill for the first Beyonders novel. I’m hoping the third book would be more like A World Without Heroes and less like Seeds of Rebellion.

Still, these are just my thoughts on the book. Other people have also given their views, and it also helps to seek other opinions on things. So check these reviews on Seeds of Rebellion out:
Icey Books
Guys Lit Wire
Books for YAs

Book: Little Lord Fauntleroy

"Little Lord Fauntleroy"

Seven-year-old Cedric gets quite a shock when he is whisked away from the streets of New York to an English stately home. He gets an even bigger shock when he discovers he’ll inherit a great fortune and a title. And Cedric is daunted to meet the grandfather he has never seen before, who is mean and selfish. But Cedric–now known as Little Lord Fauntleroy–is a very unusual boy, who takes it all in his stride…

I find this synopsis odd and very unappealing. It’s a good thing Little Lord Fauntleroy is a classic–and is well-loved by many Filipinos for spawning the animated series Shoukoushi Ceddie.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been looking for a copy of this novel for a while now. I finally found one, thanks to the assistance of the customer service representatives of Fully Booked in Green Hills. And while reading (and taking a break, in general) has taken a backseat because of all my real-world deadlines, I still snuck in a few minutes in between meetings to start and finish the novel.

As what I’ve come to expect from Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Lord Fauntleroy doesn’t disappoint when it comes to lovable yet still believable characters. Our central character himself, though a tad too good-natured, doesn’t seem like a caricature of the martyr. Cedric Errol knows that there are bad things and bad people, and yet he chooses to look at what’s good. It’s something taught to him by his mother, and by the people who populated his life, prior to him being “whisked away to an English stately home.” And it’s this world view that arms him when he is confronted by a man whose generosity and kindness are widely exaggerated.

The bulk of the story happens after Cedric Errol, who is now known as Little Lord Fauntleroy, moves to England to live with his grandfather. And, as soon as this new chapter begins, a role reversal happens. Prior to this, Cedric Errol has been on the receiving end of people’s good nature; now, it is his turn to impart his good nature to the people who are coming into his life.

Admittedly, Cedric Errol is a simpler character compared to Sara (of A Little Princess) and Mary (of The Secret Garden). The latter two characters are more nuanced when it comes to their personalities. But, I think, it’s also Cedric Errol’s simplicity that makes him all the more endearing. And it’s this simplicity that makes Little Lord Fauntleroy a very fast and enjoyable read–if not as engrossing as the other two novels.

Nowadays, we don’t encounter many simple characters. Mayhaps because simple characterization makes protagonists boring. In Little Lord Fauntleroy though, we could argue that Cedric Errol isn’t really the main character–but rather, his grandfather is. It’s the Earl that takes on a journey of self-actualization, and the events of Cedric’s life are mostly plot developments to push the changes in the Earl’s life and being.

But that’s just what I think, and I’m very open to discuss this.

Which, by the way, is something I really liked about this novel. While I enjoy reading novels immensely, I never seem to want to discuss them with other people afterwards. I usually just say what I think about a book, recommend it (or not), and then move on. There have been exceptions to this, like in the case of the Harry Potter series, but it’s been a while since a book moved me to actually look for someone to discuss it with.

And there are plenty of things to discuss about the book: like the perspective changes that the author employs in writing the novel, the plot twists (and the deus-ex-machina like development in the latter part of the novel), and the effectivity of a protagonist that has no negative attributes. There are more, but these are the ones that are on top of my mind right now.

Have you read Little Lord Fauntleroy? What are your thoughts about the novel?