The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick NessThe Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Chaos Walking # 2
Publisher: Walker Books
Number of pages: 517
My copy: US paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss.

Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order.

But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even alive? And who are the mysterious Answer?

And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

* * *

So it’s been a little over a year since I read The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in the Chaos Walking series. Having loved that book, it would have made sense if I immediately dived into the second one, especially since I had a copy. But here’s the thing I realized with the Patrick Ness books I’ve read so far: they’re all pretty emotional, the kind that makes you need some time and space in between his books to prepare yourself for another ride. Especially if you’re one who gets a bit attached to the characters, like me.

Spoilers for the first book inevitable at this point forward. And so now that a year has passed, I pick up The Ask and the Answer. The book picks up almost immediately where Knife left off: Todd wakes up and finds himself tied to a chair facing Mayor Prentiss, now President Prentiss, questioning him. Todd had only one concern in mind — where Viola was, and if she’s still alive, especially since he remembered carrying her almost-lifeless body towards what they thought was Haven. The “haven” that they expected is now New Prentisstown, with the Mayor as the new leader. But it seemed like the Mayor doesn’t want Todd dead. He spares his life, teams him up with his son Davy to do some work in New Prentisstown, promising Todd that Viola will live if he follows the rules. The Mayor suddenly doesn’t seem to be the person Todd believed he was…but can he be trusted?

In the other side of town, Viola wakes up, far from dead. She meets Mistress Coyle, one the best healers in Haven, and Viola finds out that the Mayor has locked all women in for reasons yet unknown. As Viola recovers, she becomes an apprentice healer, constantly worried about Todd and if he has survived whatever the Mayor had in store for them. But soon, Viola finds out that there’s more to Mistress Coyle than being a normal and best healer in New Prentisstown — and she needs Viola on her side.

Then the bombs start exploding.

The Ask and the Answer picks up the pace from the first book, dropping us straight into the conflict. Todd and Viola’s separation tears at them both, and while they don’t really know what to do or who to trust, they know they have to be with each other, no matter what. They both grow up lots in this installment, with all the politics and manipulation and desperation going on around them. This is also far darker than its predecessor, tackling themes such as torture, genocide and terrorism to name a few. This book had the same vibe I got from Mockingjay, with the violence unleashed in the pages…and this isn’t even war yet! It makes me wonder if the second book is as intense as I found the third Hunger Games book was, what more of Monsters of Men? I can’t imagine how dark that would be now.

This book blurs lines between the good and the bad guys, and truly, it’s hard to pick a side in the entire story. Should the end justify the means? Is terrorism the only way to achieve “peace”? Gray areas abound and the moral issues were tackled with the same detail as in Knife, but not too deep that it’s not so hard to understand. As if that’s not enough, Ness brings in another player into the field by the end of the novel, which I should have expected but took me by surprise.

My favorite character in this installment isn’t Todd or Viola, though, but Davy Prentiss. Davy, who only wanted to make his dad proud. Davy, who acts like a tough man but who’s really a boy. I loved how the relationship between Todd and Davy was developed, especially since I hardly saw it coming. It was easy to dismiss Davy as a villain especially after he shot Viola in the first book, but his evolution was a definite surprise. I am impressed at how Ness made him into a character that would earn the sympathy of the readers in the end.

Lately, I found myself balking whenever I see that a book I was about to start reading is more than 350 pages. With all the books in my TBR pile, I feel like I can’t invest that much time in a too thick book — you get what I mean? This book defied that though — it had 500+ pages but I hardly felt it. My friends, I think that is a good measure for a great book. :) While not as heart-wrenching as Knife (I admit that I’m still quite attached to that), The Ask and the Answer is a very good follow up in the trilogy. I am really looking forward to reading Monsters of Men now. Yes, I still need a breather before jumping into that, but I think I can promise that it won’t take another year before I crack my copy open. :)


2011 Challenge Status:
Required Reading – September

Other reviews:
Persnickety Snark
The Book Smugglers
Book Harbinger

The Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson and the Olympians # 2: The Sea of MonstersThe Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson and the Olympians # 2
Miramax, 279 pages

Percy Jackson’s seventh-grade year has been surprisingly quiet. Not a single monster has set foot on his New York prep-school campus. But when an innocent game of dodgeball among Percy and his classmates turns into a death match against an ugly gang of cannibal giants, things get . . . well, ugly. And the unexpected arrival of Percy’s friend Annabeth brings more bad news: the magical borders that protect Camp Half-Blood have been poisoned by a mysterious enemy, and unless a cure is found, the only safe haven for demigods will be destroyed.

In this fresh, funny, and hugely anticipated follow up to The Lightning Thief, Percy and his friends must journey into the Sea of Monsters to save their beloved camp. But first, Percy will discover a stunning new secret about his family — one that makes him question whether being claimed as Poseidon’s son is an honor or simply a cruel joke.

It’s been ages since I read the first Percy Jackson book. I should have picked the next one up immediately, but I guess I was waiting until I acquired all the books before I do. Unfortunately, though, I only got to buy up to the third book, and then books 2 and 3 sat pretty on my shelf, wondering if I would ever get around to reading them.

And so I finally did. I was kind of wary because I couldn’t remember much of what was in The Lightning Thief, but I had no time to reread it. I figured Wikipedia should be enough, right? Well, Wikipedia did help me a lot, but I don’t think it was that hard for me to get into the second book since I still had memories (albeit vague) of the important details in the first book.

In The Sea of Monsters, we find Percy almost done with the school year in a new prep school. It was the first time he’s gotten through a year without expulsion, and he was very much looking forward to spending another summer in the only place where he truly felt home, Camp Half Blood. But of course things don’t go the way he planned — an innocent game of dodge ball becomes a game of life and death against fierce cannibalistic giants which ended up with his friend Annabeth’s unexpected arrival. Together with Percy’s seemingly slow friend Tyson, they travel to Camp Half Blood and realize that things are not so fine and dandy: someone has poisoned the magical borders that protect the camp, and the safety of the campers are at stake. As if that wasn’t enough, Percy keeps getting dreams of Grover being in trouble, and he knows he has to find a way to save him, too.

I absolutely forgot how much fun I had reading the first book in the series. Which was just as well, because the second book was also so much fun as — maybe even more than — the first one. As the first one, the Greek mythology elements were woven cleverly into the plot. There was still the feeling of impending doom, of course, but it was lightened up with the wittiness of the dialogues. I loved the idea of the Sea of Monsters, too, and their journey to get there. Some of my favorite scenes include the sirens and Annabeth’s encounter with them, as well as the entire saving Grover scene. Somehow, it reminded me of a scene from that Nickelodeon show, ChalkZone. Anybody familiar?

The new revelations to the overall story arc was also very interesting, and it definitely opened another bunch of possibilities for the next book. It wasn’t exactly surprising because I somehow had an inkling that their quest is not what it seems. Still, it was interesting enough, and I’m curious to know what would happen in the next book. Which probably means I should get to it sooner than later.

Oh, and you know what who I really loved in this book? Tyson! He’s such a loyal and darling “friend” (and I use quotation marks because there’s a revelation for his character in this book, too) to Percy, and he just made me go “awww” several times. :) I sure hope there’s more of him in the future books?

I really enjoyed reading The Sea of Monsters. It’s fun and witty and magical and I think it’s a good follow up in the Percy Jackson series.


2011 Challenge Status:
Required Reading – September

My copy: paperback from Fully Booked

Cover and blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
Literature Young Adult Fiction

After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy

After the Storm: Stories on OndoyAfter the Storm: Stories on Ondoy by Various Authors, edited by Elbert Or
Anvil, 128 pages

The pieces in After the Storm were mostly written in the midst of and immediately after the typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009. The writers share their experiences of the typhoon, their insights and reflections, their hopes and aspirations. Long after the news media has moved on to the next big headline, After the Storm hopes to stand as written record to remind everyone that this happened. We were there. We are still here.

Two years ago, on this day, I woke up and found it was raining hard. It was a normal occurrence, of course, since it was the rainy season at that time. I was all ready to snuggle down into bed and enjoy a rainy bed weather, thanking that I was safe and sound with my family, at home.

Then this happened:

September 26, 2009

It was two years ago today that Typhoon Ketsana, locally own as Ondoy, hit our country, submerging Metro Manila underwater. It should have been a normal day, especially for us since it has never flooded in the 20 years that I lived where I lived. But that day changed everything, and in a span of hours, we found ourselves trying to secure all the important things we own away from the rising waters of a flood that got into our house, and eventually evacuating to our neighbor’s house where we stayed the next two nights.

Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy changed my life, and while I think I have pretty much moved on from this flood, it’s still one of the things that I will never be able to forget.

So that’s why I felt that this collection of essays edited by Elbert Or, After the Storm, is pretty much a required reading for me. When you survive a disaster like this, it’s either you completely turn away and try to forget about it, or move on and remember it every now and then, using it to make you a little bit stronger. I choose the latter.

After the Storm is filled with essays from different people sharing their various experiences that happened before, during and after the typhoon. These essays range from a creative piece told from the point of view of a floating hardbound book, to a senator’s reflections on the effects of the typhoon and the resiliency of the Filipino spirit, to a person’s thoughts on volunteering and even a firsthand account of a survivor from Provident Village in Marikina, one of the hardest hits of the flood. Needless to say, this was one of the books that I should not have read in public, because I found my eyes filling with tears every now and then. It’s hard to forget the fear, the disbelief, the wondering if things will ever be the same again after this, and if we will ever even recover from this.

To be honest, I wasn’t really feeling the first part of the book. It felt like some of the entries were written just to impress people, or to pat their egos about volunteering. I couldn’t relate, and I felt like it lacked the proper empathy that victims survivors would look for. I felt exasperated at the truth that shows just how unprepared we are, and how much the government lacked, and how some people pointed fingers at that. Some talked so much about volunteering that it almost didn’t sound sincere. On the other side of the spectrum, there was one essay that talked about how it is better not to volunteer and instead go back to work and donate money because it would be more helpful. As much as it made sense, I was kind of miffed. Are you just trying to comfort yourself with the fact that you didn’t take time off from work to help out? Come on. Tell that to the people who’s on the receiving end of the help.

But then somewhere in the end, I realized that maybe, just like grieving, there is never really a single way in moving on from calamities such as this. Maybe people cope differently. Maybe some people get so moved that they have to move physically, that they have to do something about it, such as organize a sandwich drive or volunteer for various relief efforts. Maybe some people get so shocked that they can’t do anything, except maybe find a way to spread the word. Maybe some people get moved to write. Maybe, some victims start off with shock, sadness, disbelief until they find the strength in themselves and in other people to help them become survivors instead.

There are people who suffered much more than I did, but it wouldn’t change the fact that Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy changed my life. I think and I hope it changed everyone’s lives, with it has tested us. Anthologies such as this may not be perfect, it may not contain a very accurate account of everything that happened in those dark and stormy days, but I must agree that it’s a way of reminding us that it happened. And while we must move on, we must not forget.

Two years ago today, Ondoy surprised all of us.

We were there.

Yes, we are still here.

And yes, we are still standing.

And maybe, that’s really the point of this book.


My copy: paperback from National Bookstore

Cover & blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
taking a break

Want Books: Fury by Shirley Marr

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now.

I cannot remember where I first heard about this book I’m featuring this week, but I know I confused it one too many times with that other book with the same title and almost the same cover. Only, I knew it was the book’s blurb that got to me. I lost this book from my radar for a while until one of my Goodreads friends reviewed it. That’s when I understood why it was a bit hard to remember: not only is there another book with the same title, but there’s also another author with the same surname. Eeps. Anyway, my Goodreads friend sang praises to this novel, and that just really made me want this more.

Fury by Shirley MarrFury by Shirley Marr
Black Dog Books, Released May 1st 2010

Let me tell you my story.
Not just the facts I know you want to hear.
If I’m going to tell you my story,
I’m telling it my way.

Strap yourself in…

Eliza Boans has everything.
A big house.
A great education.
A bright future.

So why is she sitting in a police station confessing to murder?

How intriguing, right? This is Aussie YA fiction, and you know what they say about Aussie YA books.

Anyway, I checked Book Depository for this, but it’s currently unavailable, and I haven’t spotted a copy of this anywhere yet…so it may take some time before I get this. Unless someone would be nice enough to send me a copy. *bats eyelashes*

Oh well. I don’t know if that begging works, but I can still wait. I’m pretty sure I’ll stumble over this book sometime when I’m not expecting it. :D In the meantime, I’ll content myself with reading this short Fury reader sample.

A Monster Calls Trailer

Forgive me if I’ve been ignorant. I thought Patrick NessA Monster Calls has been released everywhere because…well, I have a copy and we have copies here, and some friends I know have copies. Imagine my slight surprise when I found out that it’s not yet released in the US, and won’t be until the 27th.

No wonder not a lot of people seemed to have read it yet. And why it’s so hard to find a copy here. (But hey, Book Depository has had that book for ages!)

Anyway, Candlewick Press has released a trailer for A Monster Calls, and I must say: like the book, the trailer is awesome. It definitely made use of the illustrations in the book well. Check it out:

YouTube Preview Image

You can check out a bigger version here.

There’s more Patrick Ness / A Monster Calls goodness in this Shelf Awareness Maximum Shelf August 24 issue (may be a bit spoilery, so if you haven’t read the book yet, proceed with caution!). A Monster Calls is one of my favorite books this year, and I definitely recommend that you get your hands on it if you haven’t yet. If you’re not a fan of his other books, don’t worry — this one is very different, and I’m pretty sure it will be worth your time. :)