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.

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