Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Book Review: The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #2)

In The Angel's Game, Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón continued his gothic tale for The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This mystery novel, set in Barcelona, is a prequel to the international best-seller, The Shadow of the Wind. I read The Shadow of the Wind a couple of weeks ago and I loved every page in it. I ventured into The Angel's Game with a high expectation. The result? I opine, while The Angel's Game is an excellent novel but it came slightly short of the high bar set by The Shadow of the Wind.


In the vibrant city of Barcelona stood an abandoned tower house, its walls and bricks echoed with the memory of its owner's death. Meanwhile, David Martin, a budding novelist, took residence in this forsaken mansion and made a living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym.

The recollections of a troubled childhood tormented David, and he also struggled with an impossible love. Soon, not even his books could shelter him from the onslaught of despair. When David's world reached the point of collapse, he received an invitation from a French publisher, Andreas Corelli, to write a book so powerful that can change hearts and minds.

My thoughts on this book:

In The Angel's Game, Zafón wrote as beautifully as in The Shadow of the Wind. This book was written in Spanish and translated into English by Lucia Graves, who did a sterling job at translating the book. Every sentence was pleasurable to read. Zafón described Barcelona vividly. The writings painted the city with a vibe that highlighted the story's themes; mysterious, gothic, yet lively. Furthermore, Zafón also gave each character a well-rounded portrayal. Meanwhile, the first person narrative took us (the readers) on a Faustian journey with David Martin, who is the protagonist in the book.

In The Shadow of the Wind, the author used flashbacks to unveil the answers to the mysteries. The Angel's Game, on the other hand, told the story differently. This book took on a more traditional approach for mystery storytelling; it kept the answers hidden until the last few chapters. In other words, in The Shadow of the Wind, you sit back and the book will give you all the information. Whereas in The Angel's Game, Zafón kept the final piece of the puzzle very close to his chest, only to be revealed at the story's conclusion. While this book shared some similarities with the works from Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens, but I believe Zafón is in his own league. The is a story about undying love and meditations on religion, but it also reflected the themes from the likes of Dorian Gray and Faust. I enjoyed thinking, and reading, about the symbolisms in this book. This is a stimulating read.

It suffices to say, I had a love affair with the first 80% of the book. The story's climax was full of twists and turns. However, this is also where I would subtract a few points from the book; while the story concluded in a most unexpected, thought-provoking manner, but I thought it was... overly ambiguous. Admittedly, when I finished this book, I could not fully grasp the meaning of its ending. Therefore, I took it to the internet and put more thoughts into it, only then did the ending started to make sense to me. Some readers may enjoy this sort of ending, while others may find it slightly frustrating. What exactly is the ending in this book? I will let the would-be readers discover it for themselves. However, if you do (or, have) read The Angel's Game, then I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on what the ending means.

The Angel's Game is indeed a worthy prequel to The Shadow of the Wind. I am adding Carlos Ruiz Zafón to my list of favorite authors. I recommend this book, not only to those who are fond of mystery and gothic novels, but to anyone who loves a good book.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Book Review: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #6)

In 1988, Macbeth and Hamlet had a baby in Discworld; the result, is a comedy called Wyrd Sisters. This book is the 6th installment in Terry Pracehtt's Discworld series. Wyrd Sisters is witty and humorous, and it might even put a few smiles on Shakespeare's face if he could read it.


In a castle chamber, the moonlight wrestled against the darkness to produce the ghostly silhouette of a man, who stood in a deafening silence and whisphered: "Is this a dagger which I see before me?"

A few minutes later, a dagger buried itself into the king and his body thumped against the stone floor. On that night, the kingdom of Lancre began to wobble. Now, it is up to three witches from the moor, the Wyrd Sisters, who usually meet up on Tuesday nights, to put the rightful king on the thone.

My thoughts on this book:

I had more fun reading Wyrd Sisters than Equal Rites. This little book is clever and entertaining. I was smiling and grinning at the Shakespearean references in this book, and my English teacher from highschool would be proud to know that I did not give back those classes to her. The story commented on the political system of monarchy, the phenomenon of theatre, and other moral values. But I particularly enjoyed the parts in the book that parodied the classical fairy tales. One cannot separate fairy tales from magic, so let's talk for a while, the role of magic in Wyrd Sisters.

There are two types of portrayal for magic in Discworld books. The first portrayal is where young men go to an university to receive a degree in magic. While they learn magic in great details but they are also restricted to their chosen discipline, all the while they refuse to acknowledge authorities in the same field. I believe this is a comment on the social sector of education and research in our world. The second portrayal for magic is the raw and the natural magic, and it can cause inanimate objects to think and walk, as if the nature itself is a character in the story that may intervene and resolve conflicts. In Wyrd Sisters, the spotlight was cast on this second portrayal for magic and I found this underlying theme fascinating and thought provoking.

Granny Weatherwax returned in Wyrd Sisters, but this book also introduced us to two more witches; Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. I like these two characters. The constant bickering between Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg was particularly enjoyable to read; the dialogues were humorous. Meanwhile, this book also entailed a subplot of romance involving Magrat Garlick, and it added heart to the story.

Wyrd Sisters is the second book featuring the witches of Discworld. So far, I am enjoying these books more than the Rincewind/wizard books. To me, these books, casting the witches as the protagonists, have better writings and more interesting themes than those about the wizards. However, whether if I would end up liking the Witches books as much as I did with The City Watch, Moist Von Lipwig, and Ancient Civilization books, that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Wyrd Sisters has a humorous and hearty story and I recommend it to book lovers.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Book Review: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #3)

Equal Rites is the 3rd installment in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. While its two predecessors, The Color of Magic, and The LightFantastic, were straight parodies of the Sword and Sorcery genre, Equal Rites marked a beginning for the Discworld books to start exploring topical issues, issues that are relevant to our world.


Drum Billet, a wizard, was about to kick the bucket. He must pass on his staff of power to the eighth son of the eighth son. Such is the wizardary way in Discworld. In a small town called Bad Ass, Drum finally found a baby who could inherit the staff. He quickly handed the staff to the baby's parents just before Death (literally) tapped on his shoulder. Whew, transaction complete!

Or is it?

Well, there is just is a small problem; in his haste, Drum Billet forgot to check the newborn's sex. Years later, a little girl would come knocking at Granny Weatherwax's door and ask, "can I be a wizard?"

My thoughts on this book:

Equal Rites is the 3rd installment in Discworld, but I think this is the point where the series really came to life. The first two books in Discworld, The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, were straight parodies of the fantasy troupes. Those two books were funny and charming in their own ways, but they were also disjointed and lacking directions. But with Equal Rite, Sir Terry sent a powerful message to the world, that fantasy can be much, much more. This book has a direction, at its core is the theme about equality. The story of a little girl tugging at a wizard's robe and asking why women can't be wizards, I think this is something that can resonate with everybody.

The writings in Equal Rites saw improvements over the previous books. In particular, the narratives are more coherent than the first two books in Discworld. There are still a few places where the narratives did not clarify how it moved from point A to point B, but on the whole, Equal Rites doesn't have the randomness that was felt in the previous books. The dialogues were witty, and the banters added charisma to the book. Meanwhle, the characters in this book are funny and likable. I especially like Granny Weatherwax, who was harsh but wise. She is a very impressive character.

A slight let down in this book, for me, is its finale. Throughout the book, it was building up to a big show down. But the ending didn't really live up to the expectations and it felt like an anti-climax. As a result, while Equal Rites is a wonderous book with great characters and a powerful theme, but I wouldn't say it is in the same league as Small Gods, The City Watch series, and Going Postal. This does mean, however, if by this point you are a new comer to the Disc, then you have plenty to look forward to in the future books.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1)

Books are mirrors; you only see in them what you already have inside you”
         - Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

What was the first book that found its way into your heart?

Many many years ago, a younger me read a fantasy trilogy, about a dark elf named Drizzt Do'Urden. Like staring into a mirror, I saw myself in Drizzt, his was a story about finding an identity among racial discriminations and self doubts. After reading Drizzt's tale, my heart became so full but I could not describe it in words. The Dark Elf trilogy found its way into my heart and it made me a reader. Over the years, my literary tastes have expanded and evolved, but Drizzt remains an old friend who still occupies a special place in my heart. It is some kind of magic.

Last week, I felt this magic again when I read The Shadow of the Wind. This mystery novel, written by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón, told a story of love, hatred, and the lost dreams. It is a beautiful book and it left a deep mark on me.


The story took place in Barcelona and the year was 1945. The city was mending from the wounds it suffered in the Spanish Civil War. On a misty street, a father and a son walked hand in hand. The father, an antiquarian book dealer, was taking his son, Daniel, to a secretive place known as The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Young Daniel was mourning the loss of his mother, but in the sea of forgotten books he would find his solace – a mysterious book titled The Shadow of the Wind, written by a little-known author, Julián Carax.

Daniel became fascinated with Julián. He searched for more of Julián's works, only to discover that someone was destroying every copy of books written by Julián. Meanwhile, the book in Daniel's possession might just be the last surviving work written by Julián Carax.

Who was hiding in the shadow and destroying Julián's books? And why? Soon, a boy's search for the books of his favorite author would awaken, Barcelona's dark secret.

My thoughts about this book:

Is Gothic novel dead? The Shadow of the Wind will prove to you, the Gothic enterprise of the 19th century is still alive and kicking. This book is wild, it is dark, and it is about the art of reading. Within its pages you will find a story within a story, of tragic love and gruesome murders, and it took place in a noirish depiction of the mid 20th century Barcelona.

“A doomed romance and murders in the shadows? Isn't this a bit over the top?”

Perhaps so, but under Zafón's beautiful prose and elaborate plotting, this book turned into an unputdownable masterpiece. The moment I opened the book, the time disappeared. The black inks on the white pages, they transported me to a different world. Over the course of the next 500 pages I met characters who became my friends. I came to know and care for them. I shared their loves, hopes, and griefs. Their losses became my losses, and their joys cheered my heart. At the end of the book, I sighed and pondered at the things that could have been, but would never be, or still to be – the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.

I highly recommend The Shadow of the Wind. If a book has yet to find its way into your heart, then this book could be the one.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Book Review: The Wire in the Blood by Val McDermid

This August, my book club is reading The Wire in the Blood. This is a crime thriller written by Val McDermid. It is also the second book in a best-selling series featuring two criminal profilers; Dr. Tony Hill and Carol Jordon. A Google search indicated, that these books were adapted into a TV series too. Admittedly, I have never heard of of this series or its author until now, but I do like a good story about heroic detectives solving blood-chilling murders. I was feeling excited when the librarian handed this novel to me at the book club meeting. I read this book over the course of 5 days, but I have a mixed reaction to this book.


Are all serial killers insane?

Criminal profilers, Dr. Tony Hill and Carol Jordon, are about to discover the answer to this question, the hard way.

Across the UK, dozens of teenage girls have vanished without any trace. The legal authorities are convinced, that these girls were runaways. But a budding detective, Shaz Bowman, suspected the otherwise. Shaz, a student of Dr. Hill's, proposed a theory so wild that not even her own teacher believed her.

When Shaz' mutilated body was discovered in her own apartment, however, Tony Hill had a change of mind. Maybe, Shaz was on to something and that's why the murderer killed her dead. Tony and Carol followed the clues to investigate the case, only to finding themselves become preys to a ruthless yet brilliant killer.

My thoughts on this book:

I have a mixed reaction about this book. I like the story because it is strung with tension. But on the other hand, I also found the pace in this book too slow, and its plot is unfocused. This book counts to 530 pages, but it spent the first 200 pages to establish the characters and their backgrounds. The first half of the book was dragged out. Once the story launched from the ground, what followed was 300 pages worth of suspense. I particularly enjoyed the middle book, where the story placed a heavy emphasis on the detective works. However, I dislike the ending of this book. It felt like a rushed conclusion. I am not sure if the author intended this book to end at a cliff hanger, or perhaps it is a setup for a sequel. Without spoiling the story, it suffices to say, to me this book feels unfinished.

Tony Hill and Carol Jordon made a pair of likable protagonists. I had a lot of fun reading about Tony Hill's approach at tackling the crime. This book also made an attempt at a romantic subplot involving our two protagonists, but I found the romance somewhat dim and flat. Meanwhile, the antagonist, the serial killer, he added most of the thrills to The Wire in the Blood. He is a frightening character, whose ruthless and cold-blooded behaviors threatened every character in this book with a real sense of danger.

Here I need to mention, The Wire in the Blood is very violent. Certain scenes in this book depicted gores and bodily mutilations in graphic details that may disturb sensitive readers. I do not think the author was glorifying the violence and the gores. I think the author used the violence to add weights to the horrifying nature of the crimes. However, if you have a low tolerance for gores and violence, then you may wish to approach this book with caution.

Despite the several issues I have against this book, I did enjoy The Wire in the Blood. If you can pass the long, tiring first half of the book, then you may discover a good detective story, full of suspense and tension, in the second half. The ending was disappointing, but the journey was good. Should the opportunities arise, I would be keen to read more books in this series.