The Clocks

I was procrastinating taking a break last Saturday on my NaNoWriMo novel (I won, by the way, yay!), and I found a book report I submitted for my English class back in senior year in high school. I was already a reader then, but I stuck mostly to series and only a few serious novels, so a book report for a project was easy for me. This was an excuse to buy a brand new book, and I decided to choose something that is outside of my normal genre to try it out.

I find it funny that I focused on the characters when I wrote the report. I guess ever since then, I’m a character person? Another funny thing: I never read an Agatha Christie after this one. I guess I never got around picking one up after that, and I’m not a big fan of mysteries in literature for some reason. I like it on TV, but not on paper.

Of course that can still change. Any recommendations?

The Clocks by Agatha Christie
Book Report – written around 2002 :)

The Clocks, written by Agatha Christie is a mystery novel all about a murdered man found in the house of a blind woman by an innocent typist named Sheila Webb. The novel is told in both first and third person, some chapters being Colin Lamb’s narrative, as he tells the story in his own point of view. The novel is full of twists and turns as Detective Inspector Hardcastle, Colin Lamb and the retired Belgian “armchair detective” Hercule Poirot follows the somewhat real clues into the heart of the mystery.

The characters created by Dame Agatha Christie were simple, yet believable and different than characters in other books. Hercule Poirot, for instance, is one very unusual detective. He is an old retired Belgian detective who is an avid reader of books, whether it is kids’ Dr. Seuss or serious mystery novels. He can be quite dull at times, but he has a very surprising personality. He also has this keen nose for things that will happen that has not yet happened, psychological motives of criminals, and a queer taste for tea. When Colin Lamb and Hercule Poirot first saw each other in the novel, Colin described him as:

“My friend, Hercule Poirot, was sitting in his usual square armchair in front of the fireplace. I noted that one bar of the rectangular electric fire glowed red. It was early September, the weather was warm, but Poirot was one of the first men to recognize the autumn chill and to take precautions against it. On either side of him on the floor was a neat pile of books. More books stood on the table at his left side. At his right hand was a cup from which steam rose. A tisane, I suspected. He was fond of tisanes and often urged them on me.” (page 118)

Even the skeptic Detective Inspector Hardcastle noticed an air peculiarity on the kinds of Hercule Poirot:

“We were now settled down in a companionable fashion, with Dick (Hardcastle) glancing surreptitiously at Poirot with the air of a man at the zoo studying a new and surprising acquisition.” (page 233)

He is well known for solving mysteries and pointing to the real criminals in his armchair, without being at the scene of the crime, hence the nickname “The Armchair Detective”. Everyone knows that is quite impossible, but Hercule Poirot has an unusual analytic mind. He shows intelligence by the use of reading and common sense, which all of us should have. One more thing about Hercule Poirot is that he has a very good sense of humor, which suddenly pops out of nowhere. And he knows a lot of book quotes too.

Another influencing element of The Clocks is the setting of the novel. The entire novel revolves around one place; a street called Wilbraham Crescent. Sheila Webb, the typist, gets called to 19 Wilbraham Crescent, Colin Lamb gets to Wilbraham Crescent in the wrong time and stumbles on the mystery, all possible suspects live in the entire street itself. Even the inquest itself was done on the same street. As described in the prologue:

“Wilbraham Crescent was a fantasy executed by a Victorian builder in he 1880’s. It was half-moon of double houses and gardens set back to back. This conceit was a source of considerable difficulty to persons unacquainted with the locality. Those who arrived in the outer side were unable to find the lower numbers and those who hit the inner side were always baffled as to the whereabouts of the higher numbers. The houses were neat, prim, artistically balconied and eminently respectable. Modernization has as yet barely touched them – on the outside, that is to say.” (page 4)

So more or less, we can say that Wilbraham Crescent is a place for rich or well-to-do people. You wouldn’t suspect that murders could be committed in such a place. As the novel progresses, Wilbraham Crescent becomes a less-innocent street, with either too peculiar or too uncommon neighbors. Perfect for a mystery novel.

The Clocks is highly recommended for readers who like mysteries with mind-boggling clues that lead to the surprising ending. And it’s not only plain mystery; it also has a touch of humor and a little bit of romance to spice it up a little.  If you want mystery, and want it now, read The Clocks. It’s worth every page.

Rating:
* Note on the rating: I’m giving the rating based on how I remembered reading it, since it’s been a long time since I last read this one. If I get a chance to re-read this, then I’ll probably update the rating. :)

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Walker Books
Number of pages: 386
My copy:
paperback, UK edition

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery sister Bailey. But when Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life — and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

* * *

I think the thing about reading books about death and grief is it’s hard to relate to it if you haven’t experienced the kind of grief the characters are experiencing. I’ve read a couple of books that dealt with those topics and while I really loved them and the characters resonated with me, I don’t think I fully related to the characters and their plight because I am still blessed enough not to experience the kind of death that these characters had. This holds me at arm’s length at them, making me more of an audience than a player in the story.

But that does not stop me from reading books like that, and that includes The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. No one is a stranger to death, and we would all have to deal with grief sooner or later. Lennie was one of those people who had to deal with grief sooner, when death took her 19-year-old sister, Bailey, away through a freak heart disease. This death makes Lennie’s world come undone. She drifts from day to day, shutting herself from her Grandmother and Uncle Big, thinking only about her loss and how Bailey would never have a future.

The Sky is Everywhere is one of those grief books that show us a different kind of grieving. The kind of grieving Lennie did was something people would frown upon, especially those who do not know the feeling. In the middle of Lennie’s grief for her sister, she falls in love. Strange, right? She finds herself wanting to be physically close to Toby, her sister’s boyfriend, and at the same time, she finds herself getting attracted to new guy Joe, who makes her heart feel like the flowers blooming in her grandmother’s yard. Guilt eats Lennie after every “happy” moment in love — how can she fall in love and be happy when her sister is dead? What kind of a person kisses her dead sister’s boyfriend?

There is a beauty in Jandy Nelson’s writing that makes this book almost ethereal. It was almost like the words in the pages were music, flowing seamlessly into the other without being too flowery. Lennie’s emotions run gamut around the book, and I liked that my copy is the UK edition so I was able to see her poems in full color where she “leaves” them:

Somehow, these things made the book more personal, and sometimes harder to read because it was like I was seeing something very private. But it’s not like the other parts of the book aren’t too personal either, and it strikes a chord in me, even if I cannot relate 100%. For example:

How will I survive this missing? How do others do it? People die all the time. Every day. Every hour. There are families all over the world staring at beds that are no longer slept in, shoes that are no longer worn. Families that no longer have to buy a particular cereal, a kind of shampoo. There are people everywhere standing in line at the movies, buying curtains, walking dogs, while inside their hearts are ripping to shreds. For years. For their whole lives. I don’t believe time heals. I don’t want it to. If I heal, doesn’t that mean I’ve accepted the world without her? (p. 222-223)

There were a few times in the book that I felt the familiar choking sensation of tears wanting to come, and another part of me is thankful that I am still spared from that kind of pain. Perhaps in reading this book, I will be somehow ready?

But if there was a lesson that The Sky is Everywhere imparts, it’s that there is no wrong way of grieving. Everyone grieves their own way, and it’s our hearts’ ways of healing itself and moving on. This very idea/lesson gave me a hard time in rating the book, because this meant the meat of the story is just Lennie’s way of grieving…but honestly, the romantic aspect just didn’t sit well with me. While I thought Joe and Toby were pretty well-rounded characters and interesting guys for Lennie to fall for, I wasn’t very sold in the love triangle. It was obvious who Lennie would choose is the end anyway. Plus, the entire Joe thing felt just a bit unbelievable for me, almost exaggerated in romanticism. I’m pretty sure I’m just nitpicking with that. Call me old fashioned, but I want my romance a little bit built up with a solid foundation and not just filled with music (figuratively and literally with instruments such as upright bass and the like) and flowers and kissing and all that. I can’t help but compare this book with one of my favorites, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen with their thematic similarities, and how romance played a part in how the main characters grieved. If I were to choose which romance I’d prefer between Lennie-Joe and Macy-Wes, I am definitely for the latter. The Lennie-Joe build up just does not sit well with me. I guess I really am old-fashioned that way.

Nevertheless, The Sky is Everywhere is still a beautiful novel, in story and in writing. Romance aside, I thought it was a  great debut for Jandy Nelson, and I am looking forward to reading more of her works.

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Book Harbinger
Angieville
Steph Su Reads
Persnickety Snark

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Maze Runner # 1
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  375
My copy: paperback, gift from Ace

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

* * *

I have seen The Maze Runner in bookstores and blogs for a while now, but I never got around to picking it up because I wasn’t very enticed to get it. I honestly thought the summary was kind of bleak, and that’s already coming from me who likes dystopia. I would not have bumped this book up in my TBR if it wasn’t for my friend Ace, who gave me his paperback copy after upgrading his to hardbound and if he didn’t post a glowing review of the book with special mention to me. How can I not read it, right? (And this means I am an easily swayed person :p )

Most of The Maze Runner‘s strengths lie in its pace and plotting. This is the type of book that will keep you guessing and will keep you on your literary feet. The world of the Glade and the maze that they need to stolve added to the creepiness factor of the book, with the closing doors and the scary half-machine, half-something Grievers, and the community that the boys have created inside the Glade to keep them going. The amount of detail written about the Glade, the boys’ dialect and their own “government” and social designations made it very believable, and at the back of my mind, I wondered if this mirrored the world outside of the Glade, or if there was even a world outside at all. The author levels it up with the book’s pacing, and he did a very, very good job in keeping the readers in the dark even all the way up to the end. I was kept at the edge of my seat for most of the book. Even if answers were given, other questions come up, and in the end (which was a total cliffhanger, by the way), there were more questions than answers, leading readers wanting to pick up the next book immediately.

But with all those strengths, I think what didn’t really work for me in The Maze Runner was the characters. The Maze Runner is reminiscent of The Knife of Never Letting Go in terms of world building, but the latter had characters on its side. I found Thomas a bit Gary Stu-ish, with his messianic role in the story. Sure, it was his story, but it was just kind of hard to believe that the other boys inside the Glade never figured out the things that Thomas figured out in his stay there, especially if they were supposed to be smart. Teresa, the only girl, felt more like a distraction than an important part of the story. I couldn’t quite figure her out, as well as her relationship with Thomas — is there a romantic angle here? What is her use in the story except be a girl and talk to Thomas and be cuddly with him? I’m not quite sure I got it. I did like the other characters though, particularly Newt, Minho and Chuck, and they provided a good variety and even some comic relief with the bleak atmosphere of the book.

I must warn readers, though, that this is a very talky book — most of the exposition is done by telling, not showing, so this may be an issue for other people who like descriptions more than dialogue. Despite that and the slight falter in the main characters, I think The Maze Runner is still a good book. Its tight plot, good pacing and mysteries definitely makes this book deserving of its popularity among the dystopian ranks. I will definitely pick up its sequel, The Scorch Trials, to know what happens next…but I will not pick it up anytime soon, because frankly, the end of The Scorch Trials excerpt in my paperback copy really freaked me out. :-s

Rating:

Other Reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Steph Su Reads
Bart’s Bookshelf

One Hundred!

I meant to blog about this earlier, but alas, life and NaNoWriMo and other non-shiny, non-reading stuff got in the way. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Since I have a long day at work today, I think I can afford to have a little break and a celebration. So…here we go:

I have read 100 books in 2010!

I'm not sure if there are 100 books in that image really. Let's just pretend it is. :) (image from wehearit.com)

I know that compared to other readers and book bloggers out there, 100 books is a small feat, but this is the first time I have actually reached that number in a year. I know it would be somewhat of an easy challenge, but I never thought I would finish it with a month and a few days to spare. :)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I have made a huge dent in my TBR pile — in fact, it seemed to have grown bigger as I did this challenge. But oh well, I should not be surprised with that anymore.

I will still continue to read until the year ends of course. Let’s see how much I can reach before 11:59:59pm on December 31, 2010. :)

Will I do this again next year? Probably…not. I don’t want to set a number to reach anymore because I know I will keep on reading, no matter what. I initially set to read 50 books in 2008 because I felt like I don’t read enough then. Now that I know I read more than enough, I don’t think a number is necessary. A themed challenge again, maybe, but it depends on the mood.

On another note — I have four more challenges remaining, three of which I am not sure if I can still meet before the year ends. But it’s okay if I don’t reach them — the fact that I tried (even if it was just at the start) is already good enough. :)

Winter’s Passage

Winter’s Passage by Julie Kagawa
Iron Fey # 1.5
Publisher: Harlequin
Number of pages: 59
My copy: free ebook from Kindle store

Meghan Chase used to be an ordinary girl…until she discovered that she is really a faery princess. After escaping from the clutches of the deadly Iron fey, Meghan must follow through on her promise to return to the equally dangerous Winter Court with her forbidden love, Prince Ash. But first, Meghan has one request: that they visit Puck–Meghan’s best friend and servant of her father, King Oberon–who was gravely injured defending Meghan from the Iron Fey.

Yet Meghan and Ash’s detour does not go unnoticed. They have caught the attention of an ancient, powerful hunter–a foe that even Ash may not be able to defeat…

* * *

Winter’s Passage is a novella released for The Iron King fans to satiate their hunger for more Iron Fey goodness until the second book, The Iron Daughter, comes out. I’ve had this ebook in my e-reader for ages, because I was never one to say no to getting free ebooks, but I never read it because obviously, I never read The Iron King until now.

If you haven’t read The Iron King yet, spoiler warning for that book starts here.

The novella starts immediately where The Iron King left off, where Ash picks up Meghan from her house to fulfill her promise to him after helping her bring back her brother Ethan to the mortal world. Meghan knew she had to fulfill her promise, so she joins Ash, but asks for a favor to go see her best friend Puck, who was sleeping under the dryad’s care after he was wounded in the first book. As they traveled through wyldwood, they felt someone was following them, which made Ash, the dryads, and a returning Grimalkin (heeee!) very worried.

This is a very short novella that’s pretty easy and quick to read, especially if you’re already familiar with the faery world that Julie Kagawa created. It’s action-packed and mysterious, with just the right amounts of romance to tickle the fancy of Iron Fey fans. The action was my favorite part in this ebook. I liked how there was this big pressing sense of urgency for Ash and Meghan to get to Tir Na Nog before the hunter finds them — the fear was very palpable, and the chase scene was believable. I liked that there were new characters introduced in the novella, and although they were just minor ones, it goes to show how much world building has been made for this series. The fight scenes against the hunter was well-written too, consistent with how The Iron King‘s actions scenes were done.

However, I felt that the reveal was a teensy bit anticlimactic and almost…well, cheesy. Like I said, the action scenes and the chase was very satisfying, but the reason why the hunter was hunting them felt like a downer especially with how the hunter was described in the book’s blurb.

I honestly think that all the dystopian and other fantasy books I have read has made my expectations for mysteries, hunters, mysterious hunters and anything similar to that a little bit higher than it used to be. Based from most of the reviews I have read for this novella, everyone loved this book. I still liked it, but I just felt underwhelmed by the reveal. Perhaps if I read this earlier while waiting for The Iron Daughter, I would feel different, but now that I have the next book and the third book in my TBR, it did not have the same effect on me.

But again, that’s just me. *shrug* Winter’s Passage is a good addition to the Iron Fey series and read it if you just want to have a quick dose of Meghan and Ash (and Grimalkin!). And the cover is gorgeous too — too bad it’s not available in print. I will still read the rest of the Iron Fey novels, because I still want to know what happens next (and Puck, I want to see you back!).

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 101 out of 100 for 2010

Other Reviews:
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Escape Through the Pages
Amaterasu Reads