The Dark and Hollow Places

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie RyanThe Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan
The Forest of Hands and Teeth # 3
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 384
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister’s face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Annah’s world stopped that day, and she’s been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn’t feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.

But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it’s up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return’s destruction?

* * *

One of the first zombie books that I really wanted to read last year was Carrie Ryan‘s The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I remember reading a review of it in Persnickety Snark, and after some hesitation (after all, the title felt a little too gloomy for my taste), I decided to get it to see what it was about. Suffice to say that it rekindled my love for zombies that I first had during days of playing Resident Evil with my brother, and introduced me to the sad and hopeless world of the Unconsecrated.

It’s hard to believe that a little over a year later after blogging about the first two books, I read and finished the third book in the trilogy. I’ve always been a fan of Carrie Ryan’s work. There’s a certain beauty in the way she writes despite the somber and hopeless mood, and I cannot helped but be sucked into the world of the Unconsecrated, where the living count the days before they turn into one of the shuffling mass of undead, hungry for human flesh. They aren’t exactly the best zombie books I’ve read, but they are very good novels IMO, living up to the zombie folklore and dystopia theme.

Spoiler warning: Spoilers from the first and second book will be in this review. Read with caution.

The final book in the trilogy, The Dark and Hollow Places picks up shortly where The Dead-Tossed Waves ended. However, instead of Gabry, Mary’s adopted daughter, we meet Annah, her lost twin, waiting for Elias to come back. To recap, Elias had left to join the Recruiters so he could earn money for him and Annah to get by in the Dark City. He also did this to find Abigail, now known as Gabry, to make up for his guilt in leaving her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth years ago, taking Annah with her. Annah has lived with not only that guilt but also tried her best to be invisible after suffering from an accident, leaving her entire left side scarred for life.

Annah has been waiting for Elias to return for three years and on the day she decides to leave the Dark City to look for him, she sees a surprise: her sister. As she searches for her sister in the city, she meets Catcher who saves her. Mysterious Catcher who is immune to the Unconsecrated and knows about her past. It is with him that Annah is forced to face the ghosts of her past that she longed to forget, and decide if there is still hope in a world that has been pretty much dead for a long time.

What a ride The Dark and Hollow Places was. One thing that kept on going through my mind as I was reading this was: This is it. This is what I missed with all the “dystopia” novels I’ve been reading. As with the first two books, the world building was fantastic. I figured out where in the world the Dark City was based, and that just made everything more real to me. I loved how it was so easy to be immersed in the world and feel the same emotions that the characters were feeling. There was no need to explain why or how things happened, and you just believed in what the book says: the world is dead. The people are dying. The Unconsecrated will not stop until they get their fill of flesh. Perhaps it’s because it’s set so many years into the future, or maybe because the author used zombies. Still, reading this was a breath of fresh air amongst all the books that try but fail to be dystopia. It reminded me of why I fell in love with this sub-genre in the first place.

Other than the world building, I found the characters in this novel just as awesome. I think Annah is my favorite among all of Carrie Ryan’s heroines. She’s tough and broken at the same time, and the growth of her character in this book was a pleasure to read. She’s hardly whiny and she’s brave — probably even braver than Gabry or Mary. I also liked that the relationships Annah had with Elias, Gabry and Catcher were very developed. The romance was just right, and both characters have justifiable angst that made them hesitate with their feelings, making their coming together even more satisfying to read.

Despite some possibly dragging moments (just a little, really), The Dark and Hollow Places had me at the edge of my seat, especially in the last few pages. The ending, just like the first two novels, was kind of bleak, but still full of hope, leaving the readers wishing the characters well. This book delves into the idea that all of us are going to die eventually, with or without the Unconsecrated, and given this fact, what are we doing about it? Are we choosing to simply survive day by day, or are we choosing to live?

I know some of my bookish friends didn’t like the first book in this trilogy, and it kind of makes me sad that they wouldn’t want to read up to this book given their impression on The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The Dark and Hollow Places is probably my favorite of all three, and it is a very satisfying end to a beautiful zombie trilogy. I am definitely looking forward to what Carrie Ryan comes up with next. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine

Reviews of other The Forest of Hands and Teeth Books:
The Forest of Hands and Teeth
The Dead-Tossed Waves

Blue Angel, White Shadow

Blue Angel, White Shadow by Charlson OngBlue Angel, White Shadow by Charlson Ong
UST Publishing House, 229 pages

Twenty-five year old lounge singer Laurice Saldiaga is found dead in her room at the Blue Angel Cafe and Bar in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown. Inspector Cyrus Ledesma, a Chinese mestizo cop with a dark past is assigned to investigate the matter. The bar owner, Antonio Cobianco, is a known associate of Mayor Lagdameo Go-Lopez. Ledesma walks into a cauldron of intrigues, labyrinths, crumbling edifices, dogfights and suspects that include a jaded whiskey drinking female bar manager, a psychic journalist, a dyslexic piano player, a quick trigger pit bull owner, an aging saxophone player and Cyrus’ own uncle, Police Chief Ruben Jacinto.

One of my favorite classes in college that wasn’t my major was my Lit class, not only because I had an awesome professor, but because I just simply loved to read. I loved that I was required to pick up a novel for class, and write a report about it. The only lit class I had was Philippine literature so I was only required to read local fiction, some written by some professors in the university. While that wasn’t what what I usually read then, I didn’t mind — I was allowed to read non-textbooks for class. In a word, it was awesome.

Reading Charlson Ong’s Blue Angel, White Shadow reminded me of those college days. I can’t quite put a finger on it, but there’s something about this book’s tone that reminded me of that. It’s been a while since I last read a serious Filipino novel so it took me some time to adjust to the tone of this book. In Blue Angel, White Shadow, we was introduced to Filipino-Chinese cop Cyrus Ledesma who was sent to investigate the death of Laurice Saldiaga, found dead in her room in The Blue Angel Cafe. The investigation leads us down Cyrus’ dark past and introduces us to several other characters — bar owner and singer Rosa Misa and her fiesty daughter Rosemarie, the old and kind-hearted Antonio Cobianco who has his own secrets, Manila Mayor Lagdameo Go-Lopez who formerly wanted to be a vet, pitbull owner Robert Cobianco, and Cyrus’ priest friend Fr. Jay among others — all somewhat related to the death of the singer.

I was expecting a typical murder mystery novel as I read Blue Angel, White Shadow, but was surprised to find something more. Instead of just following the main character collect clues to find out whodunnit, I was led through different character studies as for most chapters, I was introduced to the different people and how they were all (or will be) connected. It felt a little confusing at first, and I was impatient to know how all these characters related to the opening incident. I liked reading about the characters but I guess I was expecting something else that was why it took me a while to really get into the story.

But once I did, I realized just how good the author was in weaving the story. Even as he exposed the characters, their past and their possible motivations one by one, I couldn’t figure out who was responsible. Sure, other issues and conspiracies were discussed, but there was never a solid clue that pointed to the culprit. Once it was finally exposed, however, it seemed…well, obvious. It wasn’t even ingenious, just…well, obvious. I guess my years of watching CSI has never really rubbed off on me. The ending was pretty satisfactory, and interestingly, there was even a little romance. I liked how everything tied up in the end, answering most of the questions but not in a too clean way that it didn’t seem realistic anymore. I remember giving a satisfied nod as soon as I closed the book, my mind content with how it ended.

This isn’t really my genre, but I liked Blue Angel, White Shadow, and I am truly impressed by Charlson Ong’s writing. I feel like I could learn a lot with how he wrote his characters. I hope that the seriousness of the cover or the blurb wouldn’t make readers ignore this book because it is an enjoyable piece of fiction, even if I did feel the need to write a book report for school after reading it. :D

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
3 of 20 Filipino Books for 2011

My copy: review copy from UST Publishing House, c/o Tarie. Thank you! :)

Cover and Blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
Dark Chest of Wonders

Storm Front

Storm Front (Dreden Files #1) by Jim ButcherStorm Front by Jim Butcher
Dresden Files # 1
Publisher: ROC Fantasy, Penguin Group
Number of pages:  322
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Harry Dresden–Wizard
Lost items found. Paranormal investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things–and most of them don’t play too well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a–well, whatever.

There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get… interesting.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.

* * *

Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire, and you’d think that people would start to take him seriously with all the weird things happening. But no. He gets more prank calls than jobs, and he needs money to pay the bills, fast. It was just timely that he got called to the Chicago Police Department to help with a gruesome double murder case that reeks of black magic, and a woman comes to him to ask his help to find her missing husband. As Harry works on the cases, he encounters the city mafia, bribes a fairy to give information, battles an acid-spitting demon and run around with zero sleep, all the while rushing to catch the culprit before someone else — including him — gets killed.

You know, all in a day’s work.

Storm Front is one of those books that I would never have noticed or ever picked up, if not for some bookish friends who featured it on their blogs or talked about them because it was their favorite series. I hardly peruse the science fiction/adult fantasy shelves in the bookstores because frankly, the covers intimidate me and I wasn’t one to do an impulse buy on a genre that I still don’t know well. So I really wouldn’t have discovered Jim Butcher if it weren’t for these friends who posted about him online (and they say book blogs don’t help book sales — huh?). It took me a while before I finally found a copy of the first book in Fully Booked, but when I finally did, I used it as a bribe so I can reach a specific word count in my NaNoWriMo 2010 novel. It worked, but obviously, it took me a while to finally get to it.

Storm Front is fun. Most of the fun comes from Harry Dresden himself. Jadedness and grumpiness aside, Harry’s sarcastic quips were laugh out loud funny, and I found myself chuckling at his lines in the book. Most of Harry’s bluffs were really just that — bluffs. This self-preservation act makes him seem like a total jerk sometimes, but in truth, he was an old-fashioned guy who just wants to do the right thing. I think I liked him the moment he said this:

I enjoy treating a woman like a lady, opening doors for her, paying for shared meals, giving flowers – all that sort of thing. (p.12)

I’m an old-fashioned girl, what can I say.

The story is very straightforward murder mystery. While it wasn’t absolutely obvious from the start who did it and why they did it, I eventually figured it out, sometimes even a step ahead of Harry. Not that that is bad — I liked that it wasn’t hard to put things together and it was more exciting to see everything unfold when you know you’ve figured out whodunnit. I liked how everything unfolded in Storm Front, big bugs and crazy drugs and all. It’s not really groundbreaking as far as I’m concerned, but it’s fun and fun reading is always good. :)

I really enjoyed reading Storm Front.  I’m not sure if I am willing to invest on the next books yet (since there are 10 other books, and there’s no sign of it ending anytime soon), but I know I can always borrow if I feel like continuing Harry Dresden’s adventures. ;) Besides, I want to know what happens to Dresden and his female cop friend Murphy. Hee. :P So if you’re in the mood for some fun murder mystery with a dash of fantasy (or if you think some of the popular urban fantasy books — ex. Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews — seem a little intimidating), go pick up the Dresden Files.

And speaking of other urban fantasy novels…Harry Dresden is often likened as the male Kate Daniels, and we all know how much I love that character. It may be too early to say for me since I’ve only read the first book, but I don’t see much resemblance yet, as far as being awesomely kick-ass is concerned. I am curious to how they’d fare if they get into a crossover, though. ;) Hm, I wonder.

Rating:

Other reviews:
A Dribble of Ink
Walk Into Mordor
That’s What She Read (audiobook review)

Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces by C.S. LewisTill We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Number of pages: 324
My copy: paperback, borrowed from RE

In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses- one beautiful and one unattractive- C.S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who posessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.

Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.

* * *

One of my favorite (and probably the most popular) Bible verses other than John 3:16 and the multitude of verses that I’ve highlighted in my Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. I’m pretty sure you’ve read these verses at one point in your life, too:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

These verses reminds me of those days in my Catholic community, as well as days of reading and re-reading Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember and crying as Landon read these passages to Jamie. I’ve heard them said so many times during wedding videos that my brother makes, and quoted so many times in blogs and posts about love. These verses have the power to make me feel all tingly and good inside as well as convict me of the times when I’m not as loving as I should be.

I remember during one of my heads in my Catholic community tell us that these verses on love sets the standard on what love really and truly is, and if I can replace “love” with my name, that means I am somehow living this. I’ve never really tried that because halfway through, I’d feel guilty because I know I’m not what love is. I’m not always patient, I’m not always kind. I am proud, I envy, I boast, I am self-seeking, I am easily angered, I keep records of wrong. As much as I’d like to believe that I can be what these verses say, I am only human and I fail way too many times.

It took me a while to write a review for C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces because I wasn’t sure what to write about it. I had to mull it over for two weeks until I remember what Paul said to the Corinthians and realized that this is what the novel is all about. Till We Have Faces is told by Princess Orual of Glome, the unattractive daughter of a tyrannical king, who loved her half-sister Psyche so much that she couldn’t see past her love that she thought was the only thing right. It was a bad time in Glome when Orual was at her highest, loving and caring for Psyche not just as a sister but as a mother that they never had. Orual’s world is shattered when the priests of the goddess Ungit tells their father that they need to offer Psyche as a sacrifice to the fearsome ShadowBrute to appease the goddess. Orual thought it would be the end of Psyche, but to her surprise, she finds that a god has fallen in love with Psyche and made her his wife. As Orual wrestles with the turn of events, her heart and the gods themselves, she finds that there was more to love that she needed to learn and unlearn for her to truly understand what love really is.

This is unlike any other C.S. Lewis novel I’ve read, but I’m no authority since I haven’t really read them all. I probably wouldn’t have heard of this book if it weren’t for my friend RE, and I wouldn’t know that this is known to be C.S. Lewis’ best work. Till We Have Faces is rough, almost brutal, but there is a beauty in the story that satiated my need for very good fantasy. It’s deep, but not so much that you wouldn’t understand the story or the writing as you read it. It almost didn’t feel like it was a Lewis novel, with all the gods and goddesses and pagan practices in it. But Till We Have Faces creeps up on you slowly, taking over your mind as you try and mull over the ideas and thoughts it presented. Well, that’s what it did to me, anyway. It was hard to review the book because I didn’t know how to approach it. I wasn’t sure which character I related to, and I didn’t know how to discuss the story without giving away or missing the important points. I enjoyed reading it, but I think this is the type of book that needs re-reading every now and then to fully understand it all.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy it — I did, very much. It’s just…deep. And like I said, its depth forced me to think and to see how similar I am to Orual. I wonder what Orual would have thought of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about love. I wonder if I would act the same way as she did when she found out about Psyche being a wife of a god that I cannot comprehend, of how the person I loved the most longed for something else and how my love cannot satisfy her. I wonder if the love I give is as possessive as Orual’s, and if this would eventually cause the death of the people and the relationships around me. I wonder if I will ever be able to know and see love as Psyche did, and if my name would ever be worthy enough to replace that word in Paul’s epistle.

I think that’s the real strength of C.S. Lewis’ works: not only do they entertain, but they make the readers really think. Till We Have Faces is a beautiful novel, definitely one that needs to be present in a reader’s collection and revisited every now and then. I’m buying my own copy after Lent for sure.

I end this review with the last line of the book — not a spoiler, don’t worry, but definitely one of the best last lines I’ve ever read:

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?

Rating:

Other reviews:
Awake in the Pages of an Endless Library
Claw of the Conciliator

Into the Wardrobe – a C.S. Lewis Site

Ten Miles Past Normal

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark DowellTen Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Number of pages:  256
My copy: ebook from Galley Grab

Janie Gorman wants to be normal. The problem with that: she’s not. She’s smart and creative and a little bit funky. She’s also an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy, let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experiment (regretfully, instigated by a younger, much more enthusiastic Janie). This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie reach that “normal target.” She has to milk goats every day…and endure her mother’s pseudo celebrity in the homemade-life, crunchy mom blogosphere. Goodbye the days of frozen lasagna and suburban living, hello crazy long bus ride to high school and total isolation–and hovering embarrassments of all kinds. The fresh baked bread is good…the threat of homemade jeans, not so much.

It would be nice to go back to that old suburban life…or some grown up, high school version of it, complete with nice, normal boyfriends who wear crew neck sweaters and like social studies. So, what’s wrong with normal? Well, kind of everything. She knows that, of course, why else would she learn bass and join Jam Band, how else would she know to idolize infamous wild-child and high school senior Emma (her best friend Sarah’s older sister), why else would she get arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school (jail was not part of the assignment). And, why else would she kind of be falling in “like” with a boy named Monster—yes, that is his real name. Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment.

* * *

I am a city girl, and I am sort of proud of it. Sort of, because I know sometimes I imagine myself living somewhere remote, away from the rush and hustle and pollution of the city. However, I don’t think I can stay in the province too long — I kind of like the rush, and most of my friends live in the city, too, so staying away from them is kind of torture.

I think Janie Gorman from Ten Miles Past Normal would be able to relate to my sentiments pretty well. Fourteen-year-old Janie experiences a withdrawal from the city soon after she steps into high school, five years after she convinced her family to move to their own farm. Nine year old Janie was so excited to live in a farm after one field trip, and to her surprise, her parents agreed and they moved, making Janie the coolest kid in middle school. High school was a different story, though and she knew it the moment she went to school with hay stuck in her hair.

Janie just wants to be normal, but it’s hard when everything in her life pushes her to the “different” zone. As if her Farmville-like life wasn’t enough, her celebrity blogger mom tries to attempts to bond with her, she joins the Jam Band even if she knows little about singing, and she has to make a project about an influential woman — something that her best friend knows more than she does. And as if that wasn’t enough, her mom has to go and plan a hootenanny. Hoote-what? Exactly. Who’s normal? Janie isn’t.

The blurb gives away most of the plot, but don’t worry, it isn’t really spoilery. What makes Ten Miles Past Normal such a fun read is Janie. She’s a fun, creative and often cynical girl who just really wants to be normal and be noticed, but not in the way she often is. Janie’s far from being an outcast though — she’s just very different, and that difference is what makes other people wary about her. Her voice was absolutely delightful. I love her quips and her observations, and I find myself cheering for her as she discovers more of herself. The book goes from a flashback to the present time every now and then, but the author wrote it so well that you wouldn’t get mixed up in it. The other characters were hilarious, too, especially Janie’s mom (I kind of wished there was more shown to her blogger side), her new-found Sharpie-tattooed library friend Verbana, ultimate crush Jeremy Fitch and of course, Monster Monroe! Together, they all make a wacky cast of characters that I could picture very well — I think they’d all work very well on TV, too. :)

The lesson shared by Ten Miles Past Normal isn’t really new, but it’s nice to be reminded of it every now and then. Sometimes, you find yourself looking for other things you think you can’t find at home. But once you go back, you realize that they were just there, and you just couldn’t appreciate it in the first place. Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell is a fun, coming-of-age story that is really suited for early teens but will entertain adults my age too.

Oh, and one more thing about me and the city: I just realized that where I live is already considered a rural area in reference to Metro Manila. Goes to show that maybe I’m already where I’m supposed to be. :D

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Novel Novice
The Book Scout
Paparazzi Hags
Girl About Books