{Book Review} Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)

In which a witch bewitched the hatter’s daughter – and then some….

Sophie lived in the town of Market Chipping, which was in Ingary, a land in which anything could happen, and often did – especially when the Witch of the Waste got her dander up. Which was often.

As her younger sisters set out to seek their fortunes, Sophie stayed in her father’s hat shop. Which proved most unadventurous, until the Witch of the Waste came in to buy a bonnet, but was not pleased. Which is why she turned Sophie into an old lady. Which was spiteful witchery.

Now Sophie must seek her own fortune. Which means striking a bargain with the lecherous Wizard Howl. Which means entering his ever-moving castle, taming a blue fire-demon, and meeting the Witch of the Waste head-on. Which was more than Sophie bargained for….*

I was very excited to read this book. I absolutely loved the film version by Hayao Miyazaki, and the gorgeous soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi. I think I’ve played the main theme a couple hundred times already since I watched the film earlier this year, because if there’s something I’m a sucker for more than beautiful writing, its beautiful music (I’m actually writing this with it playing on repeat in the background, teehee). I really can’t get enough of the music. Despite my excitement, for some reason, I kept putting off reading the book – even though I got my copy in May – until this month. I think I saved this because of the holidays, which would give off the magical atmosphere I would very much prefer in reading a book like this.

Howl’s Moving Castle stirred somewhat lukewarm feelings within me at first, because I was expecting it to have the same effect on me as the film had. The film version was more exciting and dramatic, definitely, but then I realized that it wouldn’t be fair to judge a book by its movie. I’m very okay with judging a film by its book, but vice versa? It just feels weird, so I decided to try reading Howl’s Moving Castle with a mind that wasn’t familiar with it. It worked. I enjoyed reading about Howl and Sophie, and I felt like a child again. Gosh, how I missed reading fantasy that didn’t have such convoluted plots!

I really loved the characters. I am absolutely amused by Howl, the entertainment factor of which helped me in rating this book. He is so vain and conscious of his appearance that I sometimes want to throw a fit and make green slime myself (because no one, and I mean NO ONE, should take that long in the bathroom EVERY DAY sheesh) but also very scatter-brained everywhere else, so the results are just hilarious. I keep imagining the events in the book transpire with the film characters* and I am all laughey-dovey for hours. Well okay, minutes, but you know. He started to grow on me somewhat because of those moments. Also, let me just mention how I admire Sophie very much. For someone in a granny’s body, she is everywhere! I would like to be like her, (still) sassy and full of energy when I am ninety, if ever I do reach that age. I also love how determined she is when she is set to do something. She’s like, “Oh, I’m an eldest kid so I can’t be exciting? Qurl, Imma find my fortune and prove y’all wrong. I’m sorry, being ninety all of a sudden just ain’t enough, so lemme see if I can poke the Wizard Howl’s eye or summat.” That’s the impression her character made on me. So sassy. I love it. (For some reason, I remembered McGonagall, and by association, Dame Maggie Smith. She would make a perfect Sophie, I’d say!)

She’ll be all, “Green slime? Meh.”

Overall, I really liked this book. Despite Howl’s vanity and Sophie’s stubbornness, I found myself rooting for them until the very end. It was a very cute story, whimsical in a way that makes you remember all those fairy tales you used to read as a little child. It’s got a very simple plot, but it has its very own charm, which is why I have no doubt many readers will enjoy this. This is the first novel I’ve read by Diana Wynne Jones. I’ve read a short story of hers in Firebirds, and I enjoyed her writing even then, so I wouldn’t say no to reading more of her works.

*okay, maybe I failed in the complete separation of film and book part, but hey, I still liked the book!

PS
Now I want to watch the film again. Or any Studio Ghibli film, for that matter. 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5

429 pages
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Original Language: English
Published: 1986
Genre: Fantasy

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{Book Review} Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Cyrano De Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac occupies a unique place in the modern theater. Deliberately disavowing realism and contemporary relevance, Rostand’s masterpiece represents a turning back in time and spirit to an earlier age of high adventure and soaring idealism. Its magnificent hero, Cyrano – noble of soul and grotesque in appearance, gallant Gascon soldier, brilliant wit, and timid lover, alternately comic, heroic, and tragic – represents one of the most challenging of all acting roles in its complexity and mercurial changes of mood. From its original production to the present day, Cyrano de Bergerac has enjoyed a charmed existence on the stage, its unflagging pace of action and eloquence of language enchanting critics and public alike. Here, in a superlative translation, is the ultimate triumph of the great French critic Lemaître, “prolongs, unites, and blends… three centuries of comic fantasy and moral grace.”*

*from my book blurb

I have noticed that my latest reviews are brought about by intense feelings that had to be expressed. This applies to this book VERY MUCH. You know those stories where the guy falls in love with a girl, but the girl likes someone else, and so the guy helps that someone else just for the girl’s happiness? This is like a classic version of that. It is so heartbreaking and at the same time so beautiful that I just can’t help but stop as I drink the words in. This is the kind of plot that transcends time and could be universally understood by just about anyone, but there is something about the language in which it is executed that manages to make you stop and read it all over again.

I love Cyrano de Bergerac for many reasons. He is funny. He is witty. He is intelligent. He is headstrong and courageous. His sensitivity on the topic of his thrice-larger-than-normal nose is sadly amusing. He is in love with Roxane, but because he knows that she is in love with Christian, one of his fellow Cadets, he has taken it upon himself to help Christian in wooing her. It’s a really depressing situation, but Cyrano’s love for Roxane is such that he would be willing to see her happiness at the expense of his own. The events that transpire in this sort of arrangement are such downers indeed for Cyrano, and even though I was screaming to him in my mind to just admit that all those letters Christian wrote for Roxane were really products of his amazing talent, I couldn’t help but see the beauty of it. I doubt that this story would have been half as tragically beautiful as it is with him being the agonizing lover in the shadows.

I also have to give props to Edmond Rostand for his flawless writing. I have the sort of modernized translation of the play by Lowell Bair, but even then, the words that frolic together in the verses pay homage to a timeless romance that is totally unforgettable for me and to several generations of readers and theatre-goers who had the privilege of learning Cyrano’s story. The type of love that Rostand managed to portray through Cyrano is so pure and sincere, the type that makes anyone radiant to the point that even a nose that is not pleasant to look at cannot outshine it.

Please read this play. Its beauty just pierces the heart in a way that contemporary romance doesn’t (at least for me). If ever I do fulfill that part of my bucket list that says “learn the mother tongue of Victor Hugo, Madame de Pompadour, and the Phantom of the Opera,” I am going to find a copy of this in the original French, and I will read it.

And because I am such a sucker for magnificent prose, I am going to share a few of my favorite quotes:

There, now you have an inkling of what you might have said to me if you were witty and a man of letters. Unfortunately you’re totally witless and a man of very few letters: only the four that spell the word “fool.” But even if you had the intelligence to invent remarks like those I have given you as examples, you would not have been able to entertain me with them. You would have spoken no moe than half the first syllable of the first word, because such jesting is a privilege that I grant only to myself.

She’s a mortal danger without meaning to be one; she’s exquisite without giving it a thought; she’s a trap set by nature, a rose in which love lies in ambush! Anyone who has seen her smile has known perfection. She creates grace without movement, and makes all divinity fit into her slightest gesture. And neither Venus in her shell, nor Diana striding in the great, blossoming forest, can compare to her when she goes through the streets of Paris in her sedan chair!

After all, what is a kiss? A vow made closer range, a more precise promise, a confession that contains its own proof, a seal places on a pact that has already been signed; it’s a secret told to the mouth rather than to the ear, a fleeting moment filles with the hush of eternity, a communion that has the fragrance of a flower, a way of living by the beat of another heart, and tasting another soul on one’s lips!

My personal favorite is Cyrano’s last monologue. It is too long to be typed here, and I don’t want to spoil it, but the effect it had on me was such that after reading the last words, I had to put down the book for a bit and think about life… really. It is THAT good. So please. For my sake, for the sake of theatre, for the sake of romance, read this.

PS

No, I haven’t watched Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)nor have I watched the famous Roxanne (1987) with Steve Martin in it, but now that I have read this, they are my topmost priority for film choices at the next available opportunity. I have, however, watched Penelope (2006) with James McAvoy and Christina Ricci. Very cute, without the tragedy of Cyrano’s tale but with the ugly nose in the form of a pig snout, and not as good as the emotions I got from reading this.

PPS

Incidentally, this is the last book that completes my personal reading challenge for this year! 125 books! This personal achievement is made  so much sweeter by that fact that this book is quickly becoming one of my favorites. ❤

In a nutshell…

Rating: 5/5

240 pages
Author: Edmond Rostand
Original Language: French
Published: 1897
Genre: Romance, Drama, Classic, Play

{Book Review} The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

The Last Unicorn is one of the true classics of fantasy, ranking with Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Beagle writes a shimmering prose-poetry, the voice of fairy tales and childhood:

 The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.

The unicorn discovers that she is the last unicorn in the world, and sets off to find the others. She meets Schmendrick the Magician–whose magic seldom works, and never as he intended–when he rescues her from Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival, where only some of the mythical beasts displayed are illusions. They are joined by Molly Grue, who believes in legends despite her experiences with a Robin Hood wannabe and his unmerry men. Ahead wait King Haggard and his Red Bull, who banished unicorns from the land.

This is a book no fantasy reader should miss; Beagle argues brilliantly the need for magic in our lives and the folly of forgetting to dream. –Nona Vero*

My love affair with this book was just way I liked it – slow-burning and unexpected. I started out feeling fairly lukewarm about the story, as it was very simple, but like a seed you didn’t know was there, days went by before I realized that it has grown on me. I am not sure if it is because of Prince Lir’s growth from shallow young ‘un to lovesick hero, or Lady Amalthea’s painful beauty, or Molly Grue’s cream puff (solid on the outside but softie on the inside) persona, or Schmendrick’s quest of true magic, but when I closed the book, I had a big smile plastered on my face for the rest of the day.

As I said, the plot is simple. The titular character is the last of her kind, on a quest to find the other members of her species, meeting interesting characters along the way – nothing really new. What really endeared the story to me were the emotions of the characters, and how they matured towards the ends of their respective journeys. The character most apparent in this change was Prince Lir, who was really shallow and annoying at the beginning, but developed into a strong and brave hero who is not afraid of showing how he feels, and fighting for it. Normally, I would have found his lines cheesy (they really were), but they came from such an unlikely character (at first, anyway), geared towards another unlikely character that you can’t help but understand why he does what he does, and says what he says, for that matter. 

Speaking of feelings, I feel the romance part of the story is a bit iffy. I have no problems with the characters, but I just find it weird that something as powerful and magical as a unicorn turned out to be mostly helpless. Maybe that was the whole point, because she’s the last of her kind? But that’s just me. Anyway, it’s a tiny thing compared to the rest of the book, so I hope you don’t decide against reading this just because  of a slight nuance I had. It’s really nothing compared to how beautiful the book turned out to be.

Just in case I haven’t made this clear enough times in the past, I am going to reiterate this once more: I am a sucker for gorgeous prose. I really am. Figures of speech used right, in all its glory, is enchanting. The language in this book is so lyrical and poetic, with metaphors that are so dreamy yet feel so right that my imagination never ran out of things to marvel at. However, it is important to note that Peter Beagle did not overdo this, as some writers often do. His writing does not feel pretentious and forced. The mythical creature that is the focus of this novel could actually be compared to his writing. Unicorns are known for being pure, and the is The Last Unicorn in essence. It felt so innocent, and clean, and effortless, that it made me remember my childhood, particularly when and why I fell in love with this genre.  

Do not be fooled into thinking that it is an ordinary children’s fairy tale because of its whimsical title (like I did). I was surprised with how much I ended up liking it. Now I find no trouble at all believing the big-time fantasy authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Ursula Le Guin when they say that this is a must-read. It is simply magical.

My favorite quotes: 

“You have all the power you need, if you dare to look for it.”

The magician stood erect, menacing the attackers with demons, metamorphoses, paralyzing ailments, and secret judo holds. Molly picked up a rock.

“It must be that great power cannot give me whatever it is that I really want.”

“You can strike your own time, and strike the count anywhere. When you understand that – then anytime at all will be the right time for you.”

“I love whom I love,” Prince Lir repeated firmly. “You have no power over anything that matters.”

But the true secret of being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. […] The happy ending cannot come in the middle of a story.

“I did not know that I was empty, to be so full.”

PS

I just found out that there is an animated movie version of this book! How cool is that? And.. oh my. It features the voices of Jeff Bridges,  Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee! I NEED TO WATCH THIS.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 5/5

296 pages
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Original Language: English
Published: 1961
Genre: Fantasy, Classic

{Book Review} The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.” His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.*

Ooh, the book that stirred up quite a frenzy when it was originally published, and still causes some controversy now. Whenever people see me reading this book, they wonder whether it’s required reading for some class or other, but I got really curious because it’s one of those books that excite such strong opinions and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Keep reading to see what I think.

When I began reading The Catcher in the Rye, I thought Holden Caulfield was, pardon the word, an ass. I could not think of a better term to describe him without using worse words, because he really is an ass. Being the sunshine-y, vomiting rainbows kind of person, I could not stand a character who is such a darned pessimist, grumbling about every tiny thing like it’s the end of the world. Holden’s the type of guy who sees the glass not only as half-empty, but really helluva phony that it’s depressing. It would be totally like him to come to the really witty conclusion that all the water in the world is phony if you just leave it in a glass with air taking up half the space, thinking it’s important and all. Sort of like that. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people think they’re so cool that everything they do is justified. Holden blames everybody for his mistakes, and holds minimal to zilch remorse at the thought of getting kicked out of school. The book seemed like an endless diatribe that doesn’t do anybody, even him, any good. Some parts made me think about life and all (oh my gosh. I am starting to sound like him. Help.), but most of the time I didn’t even think. I just zoned out, filtered away all the cussing and stuff, much like when somebody yells at you, making me read the passages like an automaton. 

Aaaaand he repeats phrases all the time! I’m not even going to type those phrases here, since I’m quite sick of reading those and I don’t want to exert myself and remember. I mean, it’s okay to repeat phrases (I do that all the time), but please, not every other sentence or something. By the end of the first twenty pages, I was wondering how his brain could stand spouting the same things over and over and over and over again. I could not give a Slitheen‘s fart about his rants, which make up about 90% of the book. The best job for him would totally be as a dartboard or something for target practice. I already set my mind to giving this book 1 star.

But then…

Maybe that was the point. Holden was supposed to be an angsty, rebellious teenager in the first place. I admit, I still think it’s a wee bit overdone, but I think J.D. Salinger is brilliant. It’s perfectly normal to hate a book character, especially a whiny one, but if it’s because the characterization is perfect, then you can’t help but concede that the writing is really good. There are a lot of books that receive a lot of hate because the characterization sucks (I’m looking at you, Twilight), but for sure that’s not the reason why The Catcher in the Rye is controversial. Yeah, Holden starts hating on everyone the instant he sees them, but for a few parts of the novel, you can see the layers of him that have more depth in it. His affection for his sister, Phoebe, was what made an impact on me most of all. I really didn’t expect him to take break from complaining about silly stuff all day. It’s like his whiny exterior melts off into a ball of marshmallow-like stuff the moment he thinks of his sister. So maybe Phoebe is the only (living) person he cares about other than himself, but it’s enough to make him human. That, and sometimes I find him funny. I will never forget this quote:

“You can hit my father over the head with a chair and he won’t wake up, but my mother, all you have to do to my mother is cough somewhere in Siberia and she’ll hear you.” <—-LOOOOL WINNER because my parents are EXACTLY like that

because I didn’t expected that and I probably read it at a time when I was on a sugar high, so it won Holden some plus points for me. I laugh easily like that.

I still don’t like Holden, and I probably never will, but I now see why a lot of people like this book. At some parts, I found myself relating to his thoughts and realizations (right before he jumps into an entirely different topic, anyway) and you could see that he is just a kid trying to make sense out of life. I do not approve of his way of coping with things, but I could sympathize with his confusion. It’s a dead giveaway even from the way he speaks. He is desperately trying to make a path for himself in the world, and still failing at it. He’s actually a big softie, though he will never admit it, what with being unable to defend himself, and his regard for vulnerable people, like James Castle and Ernest Morrow’s mother. Holden is probably moaning about everything as a way of estranging himself from the world, maybe to protect himself from its “phoniness” through the only way he knows how. He feels alone in the myriad of things that are constantly changing in his life: his brother Allie’s death, moving from school to school, etc., which could explain his dream of being a “catcher in the rye”. He is projecting, wanting to protect the kids from falling off of cliffs when all he really wants to do is project himself. I am coming to these realizations as I type this, and I have to concede that this book really is beautiful after all.

I am giving this 3 stars instead of the 1 star I originally planned because J.D. Salinger is a genius and he deserves those 2 extra stars. I couldn’t get invested in his characters, but I surely could get invested in his writing.

Even if I really hate Holden.

If you want to know the truth.

PS

I just realized how much I love dissecting characters. This is awesome.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Author: J.D. Salinger
Original Language: English
Published: 1951
Genre: Coming of Age, Classic

{Book Review} On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

<<Update: I am so so so sorry I haven’t clogged your dashboards for almost a month (probably something to be thankful for, but I’ll pretend otherwise)! I was busy with schoolwork, and I found a subject I really liked loved! General Psychology! I am now reading characters (and people) in a new light. This stuff is amazing, guys. Really! Aaand I’ll finally put up an In My Mailbox post later this week because of all the books and mail I have accumulated (some totally unexpected!) Yowzah!>>

I’m dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world. Hannah, who found me on the Jellicoe Road six years ago.

Taylor is the leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs – the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor’s only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother – who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.

The moving, joyous and brilliantly compelling new novel from the best-selling, multi-award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca.

Here’s a funny story I want to insert before I write the real review: when I first heard of Jellicoe Road, I immediately thought of that song from the musical Cats, “…because Jellicoes are and Jellicoes do, Jellicoes do and Jellicoes would…” I Googled the lyrics and looked for it in Youtube, feeling so cool that I remembered the song and everything, and then I realized it was JELLICLE, not Jellicoe. *facepalm* (By the way, if you’re reading this from my blog, I inserted the video of the song below, just in case you want to hear it too! Careful, it gets quite catchy.)

Totally unrelated (though hopefully funny) story aside, here’s the review! (You: Finally!)

Jellicoe Road by Australian author Melina Marchetta is set as a dual narrative, a technique which I have loved ever since I read Holes. It starts out sort of like a puddle of string, entangled in itself, with you hardly knowing what to do with them, but somehow, somewhere along the book these little string ends start finding each other and connecting and forming something beautiful and perfect that absolutely makes sense. It’s hard to understand my explanation, but really, it’s my subconscious channeling you to read it stat. As you journey with Taylor and Co., everything seems complicated but wait until you read the final pages. Ahh, so that’s why this happened. You may find the resolution a bit long, but it’s okay because it ties up all the loose ends which leave you in no doubt regarding the fates of the characters, while maintaining a little ambiguity as you wonder what happens to them beyond the book’s scope.

Feelings-wise, I think this book is so… passionate. Powerful. Intense. It comes across to me that way, not because of the vivid imagery or the intricate plot, but because of all the emotions the characters are feeling. I measure a book by how it evokes feelings in me, and this book takes home all the awards because I think it made me feel everything I could possibly feel at my age. I read this at the end of my college summer semester, where I felt like a prune, numb and empty from all the schoolwork and literally sleepless nights, but this book managed to make me feel good, which is not at all unwelcome (I’m like a grape now. Sorry for the food analogy, I just want to eat some grapes.) Wow, Marchetta.

Also, Taylor Markham and Jonah Griggs both possess strong personalities, which definitely adds to the passion + tension + overall intensity of the story in a lot of ways. It makes for an interesting dynamic.

But here’s the thing: what really did me in was the prose. Marchetta’s writing contains a flowy, dreamlike quality that is part witty and part poignant, among other things. It’s an interesting combination that manifests itself several times in the text. Like this quote, for example:

And life goes on, which seems kind of strange and cruel when you’re watching someone die. But there’s a joy and an abundance of everything, like information and laughter and summer weather and so many stories.

There are several others, believe me, but I didn’t have the foresight to write them down because I was too busy reading everything that I finished the book in a day. It is THAT good. 

If it is not obvious yet, Jellicoe Road is something I DEFINITELY recommend you to read! The experience is nothing short of magical, as all dreams are, no matter bad or good. 🙂

In a nutshell…

Rating: 5/5
Paperback, 422 pages
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Harper Teen
Published: March 9, 2010 (first published August 28, 2006 by Penguin Australia)
Language: English
Genre: Young Adult

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{Book Review} Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie

The Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death: The Grantchester Mysteries

It is 1953, the coronation year of Queen Elizabeth II . Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester and honorary canon of Ely Cathedral, is a thirty-two-year-old bachelor. Tall, with dark brown hair, eyes the color of hazelnuts, and a reassuringly gentle manner, Sidney is an unconventional clerical detective. He can go where the police cannot.

Together with his roguish friend, inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney inquires into the suspect suicide of a Cambridge solicitor, a scandalous jewelry theft at a New Year’s Eve dinner party, the unexplained death of a jazz promoter’s daughter, and a shocking art forgery that puts a close friend in danger. Sidney discovers that being a detective, like being a clergyman, means that you are never off duty, but he nonetheless manages to find time for a keen interest in cricket, warm beer, and hot jazz—as well as a curious fondness for a German widow three years his junior.

With a whiff of Agatha Christie and a touch of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, The Grantchester Mysteries introduces a wonderful new hero into the world of detective fiction.*

*Review copy from publisher

Contrary to what I first expected, this book does not contain a singular plot. It is actually a collection of six cases, namely: The Shadow of Death; A Question of Trust; First, Do No Harm; A Matter of Time; The Lost Holbein, and; Honourable Men. They are arranged chronologically, and though some characters in the first case show up in the succeeding cases as well, you wouldn’t be handicapped if you decide to skip cases. Whichever suits your fancy, I suppose.

I liked this book. I found the cases smart and interesting. I found the character of Sidney Chambers, the protagonist, as particularly special because he was a vicar and even in the present time (the whole book is set in the ’50s) I find it hard put to comprehend a person like him to be involved with matters typically associated with the police. I like how, for lack of a better term, human Sidney Chambers is. True to his profession, he is loyal to his faith, and this is reflected in how he handles his cases diplomatically with a hint of the gentle sternness that makes him one of the most trusted people in town (and beyond). He is an extremely likable character and his being a vicar doesn’t feel alienating from ordinary souls like me, which I’m totally glad for. Some of the cases were predictable, but then I suppose it takes a lot to surprise mystery readers nowadays, and it is not really a hindrance, so it’s okay.

This book will be released tomorrow, so if you’re in the mood for some light mysteries, I suggest you check this book out!

 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Paperback, 400 pages
Author: James Runcie
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
To be published on: April 24, 2012
Language: English
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

{Book Review} Hunted by Cheryl Rainfield

 Hunted

“Caitlyn is a telepath in a world where having any Paranormal power is illegal. Caitlyn is on the run from government troopers, who can enslave, torture, or even kill her, or make her hunt other Paranormals. When Caitlyn settles down in a city, she falls for Alex, a Normal (someone without Paranormal powers), which is dangerous because he can turn her in. And she discovers renegade Paranormals who want to destroy all Normals. Caitlyn must decide whether she’s going to stay in hiding to protect herself, or take a stand to save the world.”*

I really loved this book. It begins normally – as normal as a Paranormal can be, anyway – but towards the middle I just got sucked into the story, which I really love. The conflict feels so real, and I can imagine all the events playing out in my mind, bringing out unique images as I try to visualize Caitlyn’s powers. I really feel bad that I can’t articulate everything I feel for this book. I didn’t expect much, to be honest – I hardly knew what to expect. I gathered that it’s sci-fi and young adult, but those genres are so broad and cover a lot of premises that I couldn’t let myself imagine what it’s going to really be like, despite the blurbs from Goodreads and NetGalley. Reading Hunted reminded me so much of the X-Men, who were shunned for having powers, despite being the logical next stage in the evolutionary process and could have done a lot to, you know, make the world a better place if you are actually nice to them. This association made me appreciate this work more, and led me to think about a lot of things. It’s another of the reasons why I really liked this book.

I guess the thing that really made me like Hunted was how this could be reflected in society today, in so many ways. (Okay, let me warn you. This is the part where I get all analytical and try to connect everything with life. You have been warned.) Paras (short for Paranormals) are treated like pariahs because they have powers, but most of all, because they are different. Because they are not normal. Cycles all throughout history have shown humanity doing this over and over again. Look at the Holocaust. The burning of people just because they were black. The suicides committed by teenagers who are queer because of how intense the bullyings are. I am not a Jew, nor am I black, nor am I gay, but reading how most of the Normals treated the Paras just because of how different they are really made an impact on me. For all we know, there are people being tortured somewhere in the world just for being different from the rest. It’s entirely plausible. The author writes about these issues in the subliminal level, but towards the book there are hotlines that offer help for victims of bullying that are really helpful. It enhances the message she hopes to send to people through the novel, which is a brilliant idea.

Hunted was amazing. Whew. And for a book to make me think that much, I salute you, Cheryl Rainfield!

PS This post is part of the Hunted virtual book tour by JKS Communications. For a list of other blogs participating, click here.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 5/5
Hardcover, 370 pages
Author: Cheryl Rainfield
Publisher: WestSide Books
Published: December 15, 2011
Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Young Adult

{Book Review} Play Ball

Most girls, when they get to a new school, just want to fit in. But Dashiell Brody isn’t like most girls. A natural at softball, Dashiell discovers her new school has a championship level baseball team – and Dashiell wants to play ball. One girl’s quest to play the national pastime with the boys will turn her family, her school, and her state upside down.*

First of all, I want to thank Oni Press for giving me a review copy of this book!

As you can see from the brief synopsis supplied by GoodreadsPlay Ball is a coming-of-age sports story about a girl who wants to play in a sport dominated by males. Dash sure knows the difference between softball and baseball, and she refuses to play the “watered-down version” of baseball, so she decides to try out in her high school baseball team. This decision caused a ruckus within the school administrative system – baseball has always been a men’s sport. It wasn’t specified in the rules because it was inherently known and accepted by everyone. Because of Dash’s stubborn determination, though, she manages to get into the team.

What I really liked about Play Ball was how it wasn’t all centered on Brody. The characterization was well thought out. Everybody has a different personality to them, and their reactions to things are fairly natural and realistic. Dashiell, for her part, has to contend with several factors before she could participate into the team: her jealous sister, the sardonic softball team, a disgruntled teammate, and the classic status quo. Each of the characters was able to grow, and I appreciated this very much. 

Though some parts were cliched and predictable, the plot was not an issue for me at all because I enjoyed the story. I am so curious to what happens after the book ends! Maybe it’s  because I have a soft spot for books that have really cool heroines, and Play Ball just fits into that category, but I liked this book. Girls who excel in sports rock! I really find it cool how Dash is really against playing softball for the reason that it is not baseball. The girl really knows what she wants. Not many people can tell the difference (to be honest, I couldn’t remember much difference myself except that the balls used are different, but hey, it’s a start). 

Play Ball will be released on April 25, 2012! It is written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, the team who wrote The Avalon Chronicles and Amazing Agent Luna, and drawn by newcomer Jackie Lewis. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this either. I recommend you read it! It’s definitely something you’d enjoy.   

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
144 pages
Writers: Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir
Artist: Jackie Lewis
Publisher: Oni Press
Publishing Date: April 25, 2012
Genre: Sports, YA

{Book Review} The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

“Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. She’s stuck at JFK, late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s in seat 18C. Hadley’s in 18A.

Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.”*

Like Oliver, I love airports. I love the feel of being suspended, neither here nor there, waiting impatiently to be brought to different places, unfamiliar or otherwise, book and another book in hand. I love to travel, and I don’t get as much opportunity as I wish, so I just make up for it by reading books involving travel… which makes this book count.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight presents the exalting feeling of love and the downtrodden feeling of grief at its purest. The characters’ emotions are so raw, especially that of Hadley, the protagonist. I thought this would be a quick, fluffy read but it turned out to be so much more than that. Aside from the main story of Hadley and Oliver falling in love, both of them fight their own family issues, especially their relationships with their fathers. While that part of the story may be filled with so much angst, I can understand them, especially Hadley, quite a lot, because I’m close to my father and I could barely imagine how hard her father’s wedding must be for her. 

Jennifer E. Smith’s writing managed to evoke so many emotions out of me, and I know I’m quoting so much, but I can’t think of another way to show you how touching and full of things unsaid the book was. Here is my particular favorite passage, which was a flashback Hadley had of her father. It’s long, but by the end of it I hope you’ll see what I mean when I say it made me emotionally vulnerable for a time.

“Do you want me to read you another one?” he asked, gently taking the book from her and flipping to the first page. “It’s about Christmas.”

She settled back into the soft flannel of his shirt, and he began to read.

It wasn’t even the story itself that she loved; she didn’t understand half the words and often felt lost in the winding sentences. It was the gruff sound of her father’s voice, the funny accents he did for each character, the way he let her turn the pages. Every night after dinner they would read together in the stillness of the study. Sometimes Mom would come stand at the door with a dish towel in her hand and a half-smile on her face as she listened, but mostly it was just the two of them.

Even when she was old enough to read herself, they still tackled the classics together, moving from Anna Karenina to Pride and Prejudice toThe Grapes of Wrath as if traveling across the globe itself, leaving holes in the bookshelves like missing teeth.

And later, when it started to become clear that she cared more about soccer practice and phone privileges than Jane Austen or Walt Whitman, when the hour turned into a half hour and every night turned into every other, it no longer mattered. The stories had become a part of her by then; they stuck to her bones like a good meal, bloomed inside of her like a garden. They were as deep and meaningful as any other trait Dad had passed along to her: her blue eyes, her straw-colored hair, the sprinkling of freckles across her nose.

Often he would come home with books for her, for Christmas or her birthday, or for no particular occasion at all, some of them early editions with beautiful gold trim, others used paperbacks bought for a dollar or two on a street corner. Mom always looked exasperated, especially when it was a new copy of one that he already had in his study.

“This house is about two dictionaries away from caving in,” she’d say, “and you’re buying duplicates?”

But Hadley understood. It wasn’t that she was meant to read them all. Maybe someday she would, but for now, it was more the gesture itself. He was giving her the most important thing he could, the only way he knew how. He was a professor, a lover of stories, and he was buildng her a library in the same way other men might build their daughters houses.Add that to the novelty of finding love in an unlikely place, and you get a beautiful novel. Of course, the fact that the cover is gorgeous doesn’t hurt.

I love how so many kinds of love were described in the book: young love, familial love, even a love for reading, and somehow it made me understand the characters more.

Bittersweet and poignant, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight proved to be a pleasant surprise, and for that I give it 4 stars.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Hardcover, 236 pages
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Poppy/Little Brown
Published: January 2, 2012
Language: English
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

{Book Review} Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter

“Dreams come true in this hilarious, feel-good fairy tale about life, love, and dating literature’s most eligible bachelor!

After a string of disastrous dates, Emily Albright decides she’s had it with modern-day love and would much rather curl up with Pride and Prejudice and spend her time with Mr. Darcy, the dashing, honorable, and passionate hero of Jane Austen’s classic. So when her best friend suggests a wild week of margaritas and men in Mexico with the girls, Emily abruptly flees to England on a guided tour of Jane Austen country instead. Far from inspiring romance, the company aboard the bus consists of a gaggle of little old ladies and one single man, Spike Hargreaves, a foul-tempered journalist writing an article on why the fictional Mr. Darcy has earned the title of Man Most Women Would Love to Date.

The last thing Emily expects to find on her excursion is a broodingly handsome man striding across a field, his damp shirt clinging to his chest. But that’s exactly what happens when she comes face-to-face with none other than Mr. Darcy himself. Suddenly, every woman’s fantasy becomes one woman’s reality. . . .” *

 

Being a total Pride and Prejudice fan (I am a sucker for love/hate stories. There. I said it.), watching all the film and TV versions, and reading/rewatching everything repeatedly with poor, unsuspecting companions is really not enough, which is why this book immediately drew me near. Me and Mr. Darcy tackle every woman’s fantasy of meeting the dark, brooding hero of Pemberley, which piqued my interest, if not for the ‘Mr. Darcy’ in the title. 

Me and Mr. Darcy is one of those books that are laugh-out-loud funny. I can’t help but laugh at Emily’s antics and her encounters with Spike Hargreaves, the only annoying person in the whole literary tour, and Mr. Darcy himself, who is either real or the result of continuous banging of your head against a rock. There are passages of Pride and Prejudice inserted in the paragraphs that put the parallels between Emily Albright’s and Elizabeth Bennet‘s stories in full relief. It’s everything you’d expect a romantic comedy to be – fun, playful, the works. However, I give it 2 stars for a simple but major reason:  I really didn’t like Emily all that much. I admit I did find some of her thoughts funny as she scrambles to understand everything that’s going on, but that’s just it – for a P&P fan, it took her too long to realize the parallels between her life and the book, and she found it rather hard to understand Mr. Darcy’s personality. Maybe I shouldn’t have read anything that says Mr. Darcy isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, but I can’t grasp her indignation at his seriousness and stiff manners – I mean, isn’t that part of the charm? And customs and etiquette of centuries ago is obviously so different from now that she shouldn’t have been so surprised when Mr. Darcy brings uses silverware in a picnic or try to cover her with his coat when he sees her wearing a revealing dress, or something. For somebody supposedly intelligent she took long enough to understand that. I found it really annoying. And I couldn’t understand how the time travel thing worked. 

On the other hand, the real love story made it up for me (I’m not spoiling anything, right? It’s obvious she ends up with Spike anyway, from the blurb). It was enough to make me finish the book. It stuck too closely to the original text to offer much variation, but it’s okay. It’s not Bridget Jones, but it’s fun in its own way. It’s really hard to find decent Pride and Prejudice-based books (I’m much pickier here than on any other kind of book), and I can see that Alexandra Potter‘s a really big Darcy fan, so I won’t hold it against the book. Still curious about Alexandra Potter’s other books, though (this is my first), albeit a bit more cautious now. 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 2/5
Paperback, 336 pages
Author: Alexandra Potter
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published: November 12, 2008
Language: English
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Chick Lit