Michelle

2014's reading journal. One book at a time..

Two birds...one stone

Two Birds (A Short Mystery) - Vicki Tyley

The story begins with Leah walking in on her brother in law, Daniel who is standing over the dead body of his wife. What’s more suspicious is that Daniel is also holding a bloodied knife in his hand. It seems obvious now that Daniel has murdered Kristine—or has he?

We follow Daniel as he accepts the news of his wife’s death and his interrogation by the police. There are a lot of things going on in Daniel’s mind and we can see the subtle hints to what kind of man he is. Overall, this is a very clever, well-written, and memorable story. The plot twist is an A plus.

Highly recommended!

Stalk me...not

Stalk Me - Richard Parker

My first read by Richard Parker.

Stalk Me has a good plot. I especially like the accident scene at the beginning and subsequent events. It is horrible at the way the onlookers treated the accident, but isn’t that’s exactloy how it is today? The videos being uploaded to youtube, Mary using facebook to contact these people, the killer using latest technology to hunt his victims, mother trying to control her children’s internet usage, and one of the characters capturing her friends’ embarassing moments via phone camera to use against them in near future—they are all very similar to our today’s reality.

The alternating point of views use to tell the story make me dizzy. I’d prefer a fewer point of view but I guess, it is important for the story to be told such in order to let the readers have more insights into the characters’ motives. However, this doesn’t add to my enjoyment of this story. It seems dragging—especially the flashbacks between Mary and her husband that there are moments when I almost give up on the book. The final resolution is disappointing. I don’t know what I expect, but it is not that. The little plot twist, on the other hand, is cleverly handled. It is one of the few things I like.

1.5 stars

An island of cannibals and psychopaths

Trapped: A Novel of Terror - Jack Kilborn, J.A. Konrath

If this is a movie, I’d have enjoyed it more. All the gore and blood on screen! Besides those, there really only very few things that I liked…or at least, okay with, in this story. 

First and foremost, Tyrone. Damn! I have a crush on him. If he’s real, I’d want to hang out with him. 

“Too many people would rather fight to the death to defend their bullhead positions. Tyrone was impressed whenever someone changed their mind. It meant acting on reason, and with reason came self-improvement.”

Second, Sara. Her character development throughout the story is good to watch. She goes through a lot, even faces an unthinkable betrayal, but she lives, and comes out much stronger. Third and last, Lester’s point of view. I think he is funny, in a twisted way. One of my favorite scenes in the book is Lester and Georgia’s first meeting. To be honest, almost all of my favorite scenes are revolved around the psychos. They just full of funny dialogues.

Unfortunately, what I don’t like triumph over what I’ve mentioned above. Why have a baby in the story if he barely given a role? He cries rarely even when his parents are running around through the thick forest, I’d thought with all the leaves, branches around, he’d have a scratch or two and cries, but no such thing happen. He also only pees one time in the entirety of the story, which is totally unbelievable. I’d prefer to not have a baby at all in the story even though little Jack is adorable.

My next point is funny to the point of absurdity. I just don’t understand the point of having cannibals running around the island with knives and forks in hand. Some of the cannibals even have salt shakers when they’re about to eat their meals…

description

I’d also expect more gore and horrible stuff in the story based on the reviews I saw…but the amount is quite usual, for a slasher book.

First date with Stefan Zweigh...

Fantastic Night & Other Stories - Stefan Zweig

My first foray into Stefan Zweig’s writing. Not at all disappointing.

The book contains five stories, some a little longer than the others. Zweig presents various scenarios with the littlest of things which is quite amazing, in my opinion. His characters are few, his setting small, his stories well-craft. He delves into the psychological aspect of the characters, creating profound stories 

Fantastic Night 
The longest out of the five. Quite boring and wordy at first with all the narrator’s inner monologues on his detachment from the rest of the world, his cold indifference etc. The story gets interesting once he meets the woman and her husband. He plays tricks on them but what’s fascinating about the meeting is that their brief interaction is a no word, wholly action-centered. Resulting from this little malicious trick, he goes through some other alien circumstances that awakens something more humane in him, open his eyes and widens his perspective. He emerges in the wake of the event as a wholly changed—not necessarily better, but certainly a happier man.

Letter From an Unknown Woman 
A lengthy letter from an anonymous woman to a writer, who she’s been in love with or, more appropriately, obsesses over ever since she was a young girl. It is creepy and I just don’t get her love till the end. She only has few interactions with the man, which he never remember whenever he encounters her again. It is absurd too at his inability to remember her even after they’d slept together few times; they even have a son together! However, it is fun to see the story slowly unfolds.

The Fowler’s Snare 
My favorite. It’s short, and memorable. In here, a man tells his story from a previous summer to a companion on how he plays a trick on a girl, mistaking his interest as sympathy and indifference. In the end, his trick proves to be his undoing, as he is now doom to a life of unrequited love.

The Invisible Collection 
Okay…though to be honest, I don’t remember much about this one.

Buchmendel 
A cautionary tale on the danger of being too detaches from the society, to the point of being wholly unaware of whatever occurs inside it, and then tries to engage with it. I don’t like it.

3.5 stars

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

The Bride Wore Black - Cornell Woolrich, William Irish

The story starts with a woman on a mission of an unknown revenge. As the story unfolds, we come to see how she plays out her revenge, though the motives are not revealed. The atmosphere I’m reading this tense and unnerving, with just the right amount of sinister mix in. I like it so much though I can’t imagine reading it again in the near future. The story loses its spell and mystery now that I’ve read it. It’s fun while it lasts though.

The final resolution is a huge let down, in my opinion. It’s the only thing that keeping me from rating this book five stars. This is the reason I prefer the movie’s ending—it ends in the only thinkable and happiest way for the woman. 

The woman is my favorite character although some of the men she kills are also likable. I particularly like Moran and Bliss. They are decent guys and truly undeserved of what befalls them. Alas! So, even though I like the woman, I recognize that she does deserve the final twist, and she knows it.

"I'm all set now," he thought. "I'm young. I've got love. I've got a clear track. The rest is a cinch.”

a novel about nothing

Love Always - Ann Beattie
“A master chronicler of our life and times." —Newsday

"A very funny book. . . . If Jane Austen had been crossed with Oscar Wilde and re-crossed with the early Evelyn Waugh, and the result plonked down among the semi-beautiful people of late 20th-century media-fringe America . . . the outcome might have been something like this." —Margaret Atwood

"Ferociously funny." —The Los Angeles Times

"Beattie's new novel, her third, is a gratifying surprise. Love Always will be welcomed by the large and loyal Beattie readership, but there is much that recommends it to the previously unconverted." —Harper's Bazaar

"Beattie's most comic—indeed her first satiric—work to date. . . . Much of the book's authenticity derives from the accretion of felt detail—a Beattie trademark. She captures 1984 Vermont with right-on references to Cyndi Lauper, Horchow catalogs, and 'pre-Cabbage Patch' Coleco." —The Christian Science Monitor

LIE. LIE. LIE.

Okay, so this is my first ever foray into Ann Beattie’s writing. But still, none of the blurbs matched my feeling when I read it. I didn’t laugh, i didn’t sympathise with the characters, i didn’t invest in any of them, and to be honest, for such a little book, it felt terribly long. I skimmed through most of the pages and I still couldn’t find anything of substance.

The novel is basically about nothing. There is no character development, it tried to tell several stories at once which achieved nothing, and in the end, none of the characters changed for the better! They just remained....

What a waste of time.

The only one that truly reflects this book is a remark from John Updike.
"The novel is sadder than satire, for it is about the emptiness not of these lives but of our lives."

ABC to the zzzzZZZZ....

The ABC Murders - Agatha Christie

The ABC Murder appeared to be one of Christie’s most popular and highly rated works, which made I dove into it with such a high expectation. It turned out to be a BIG disappointment.

Hasting, recently returned from South America to handle some business narrated the story. It was nice to see them paired up again. Anyway, Poirot had received an anonymous letter warning him of a crime. Soon, a series of murders begun to occur and the authority was nowhere close to discern the murderer’s identity. The victims were also completely differ from each other and just randomly chosen, or so it seemed. The only common factors were Poirot receiving a letter prior to each murder; the victim’s name and the city they murdered in corresponded to the next letter of the alphabet; and an ABC was left at the scene of each crime.

Despite that Poirot was assisted by the victims’ family members in his investigation, there wasn’t much that they did contribute. In my opinion, it was completely unnecessary to include that aspect. It also didn’t help that I were not invested in any of the characters. The whole thing felt lack of substances. The only reason I read on was because I had inkling as to the true motive behind the crimes. I was proven right which was disappointing. I kinda wish for a different resolution. Christie literally ripped out the murderer from A Pocket Full of Rye and put him here.

Bad mystery

Appointment with Death - Agatha Christie

The story began with Hercule Poirot hearing a chance remark, “She’s got to be killed.” or something… I didn’t remember. This remark would later be the reason why Poirot insisted on investigating the victim’s death despite her family’s insistence that the death was due to the victim’s health problem.

The suspects were many; with the main suspects being that of the victim’s stepchildren. Anyway, the victim herself was really a horrible character and the killer really did her family a service. But of course the taking of one’s life was a wicked, unacceptable deed in itself.

Poirot only took one day to solve the mystery, actually. The story was more of him interviewing the members of the trip about their activities prior to the murder and whatever they can tells him about the victim. The story dragged with little to no character development. Needless to say, I was bored out of my mind, but I read on just for the sake of finding out the culprit’s identity. I simply couldn’t guess it. Everyone seemed to be hiding something and had motive to do the victim off.

1 star!

First DNF of the year

First Grave on the Right - Darynda Jones

I didn’t like it! It annoyed me; Charley annoyed me! She seemed incapable of anything except being sarcastic or being horny. Instead of being a kick-ass heroin, she came across as trying too hard. Also, why was her father seem okay with her stepmother and stepsister’s cold treatment of Charley? Not that Charley made things easier for people. She seemed to expect people to just accept her supernatural ability, and if they didn’t or showed a slight amount of disbelief (what did she expect really?), they were either assholes or difficult people. Hmm...

I was more interested in the murder mystery that unfortunately got sidetracked for Charley’s mysterious lover. The romance just felt blehhh.. I was sick of reading about Reyes’ supposedly hotness, blab bla bla. He wasn’t even swoon worthy. Meh!

DNF at 51%

 

0 star!

Deception, delusion, obsession...

My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

My second du Maurier’s novel after Rebecca; and it did not disappoint.

The plot was Philip, an orphan, raised by his uncle, Ambrose. The boy grew up with little to no contact with female; his uncle didn’t even keep female servant in the estate. His only female companion was possibly his childhood friend, Louise. Due to health problems, Ambrose spent most of his time abroad (Italy). One day, came the most disturbing news ever (at least to Philip), Ambrose married his cousin, Rachel, who was a widow. Despite having never met Rachel, Philip hated and resented her. Then, Ambrose died of brain tumour, and Philip concluded there was more sinister reason to his death, despite the fact that Ambrose’s father also suffered of the same illness; not to mention, the man been sick for years!

Philip went to Italy but didn’t find much about the death of his uncle. Rachel too was gone by the time he got to the mansion. He returned home and soon, he got news of Rachel coming to visit the estate. His initial intention to be cruel to her was never met. Instead, he began to fall for her, which dangerously turned into an obsession. He refused to ‘share’ her with anyone and preferred to keep to themselves in the estate. (ugh!) He even transferred all the fortune to Rachel, wholly believing that she would later marry him. It took no brainer for us to know no such thing will happen.


Philip was such a noob and foolishly naïve to the point I think he was pathetic. He also hurt my eyes with all the eye rolling I had to do at his expense. However, he did serve his part as unreliable narrator well. That’s about all I can think to say for him.

Rachel, on the other hand, was an intriguing, fascinating character. At first, I was wary of her. Philip’s initial hatred for Rachel made me prejudice against her. I was fully on his side and convinced that she did poison her husband and the story would soon be all about Philip discovered the truth. How wrong I was! By the end of the novel, I sympathised and felt pity for her. I even cheered for her when she got the fortune and hoped that she’d soon leave Philip and move back to Italy or wherever she fancy.

She changed the two men’s lives, and afterwards, they both suffocated her with their affections, in my opinion. They became obsessed with her; it blinded them and changed them into someone capable of violence.

“He was like someone sleeping who woke suddenly and found the world...all the beauty of it, and the sadness too. The hunger and the thirst. Everything he had never thought about or known was there before him, and magnified into one person who by chance, or fate--call it what you will--happened to be me.”


It was quite clear that she was devoted to Ambrose. But the man’s sickness probably turned him mad and suspicious of everyone around him, particularly Rachel. He might have abused her towards the end of his life. Philip was no different; at some point in the story, he came close to strangle Rachel just because she refused his proposal or something. Also, his final act that sealed his and Rachel’s doom was proof enough of how far his mind had gone off course.

 

My theory was that Rachel saw Philip as a child, probably only has tender feeling for him because he resembled Ambrose, and also because she needed him to support her expensive lifestyle. And then, she realized what his obsession had turn Philip into, which made her try to poison him (yes, I did believe that she poisoned him) in order to escape him.

I think of Rachel as a desperate woman, who forced by awful circumstances, made bad decisions. In the end, whether she was a manipulative murderess or just unfortunate woman, I think this quotation summed her up properly.

“There are some women, Philip, good women, very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster. Whatever they touch turns to tragedy.”

Let's be a ferryman and watch a river 24/7 to be happy

Siddhartha: An Indian Poem - Hermann Hesse, Susan Bernofsky, Tom Robbins
“Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.”
I read the Modern Library edition, translated by Susan Bernofsky with an introduction by Tom Robbins. I liked this translation and it was easy to understand, comprehensible. I’ve compared it with the free ebook provided by Goodreads and I did not like that translation much. The introduction by Tom Robbins was well crafted. It was succint and to the point. Thanks to the introduction, I understood more of the story. He used references that was not unfamiliar to me so those helped too.
The reasons I read it was one, because of the seemingly short length and two, I was intrigued to read the author’s work. I won’t pretend to understand Siddartha, his journey towards self discovery, this book or whatever else that entailed. I am a simple person, and besides, in Siddharta’s words:
“Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
I applauded Hesse’s effort in writing this and his talent in communicating a thought provoking work. However, I did not feel as if I’ve changed much. Sure, it made me think and wonder for a while but in the end, the charm was broken once I separated from this book. I stopped to care about the philosophy. Maybe, one day, I’ll come to understand Siddharta more. If or when I’ve lived more and went through more trials...maybe...
“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”
I end my review with my favorite phrase from the book.
“What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”
3 stars!

Once science has spoken, one should remain silent.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Trade Paperback) - Jules Verne, Ursula K. Heise, Frederick Amadeus Malleson, Rachel Perkins
“Science, my boy, is built on errors, but errors which it’s good to commit because they gradually lead to the truth.”

A novel that contained a lot of scientific details (albeit outdated not to mention some were completely off the marks) and geological terms. Being on familiar ground with those terms did not endear this story to me though. I was thorougly bored for the most part of the story. Thankfully, it picked up once the trio were deep under the mountain.

However, it kinda weird for the supposed “scientists” / “researchers” a.k.a. Axel and Professor Liedenbrock did not spend much time exploring and studying the plants, rocks and other stuff they saw and found throughout their journey. Instead, the professor was blinded by his one goal—to get to the center of the earth. That did not at all fit as behaviour of a scholar, in my humble opinion. Who went into the center of the earth, encountered living creatures that were supposedly extinct million of years ago and possible early ancestors of human yet did not spend time to study them?! That being said, Professor Liedenbrock was not at all bad. Despite being exhibit A for ‘mad scientist’, the professor softened my view of him when he became more like of an uncle to Axel during some of the most stressing times they suffered through during the adventure. i.e. He saved the last drop of water for Axel in his bottle and refrained himself from drinking it for Axel’s sake. Axel, on the other hand, appeared as nothing more than a brat throughout the novel. He either whined, fainted, complaint, or lamented his supposedly inevitable doom. He did have his moment though when he made witty, dry comments and I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Well, as a devoted nephew I considered it my duty to eat for him as well as for myself. That I did conscientiously.”
“Very good! I thought, just the place where we should spend the rest of our days! And large though it is, that asylum is not big enough to contain all Professor Lidenbrock’s madness.”

Furthermore, his behaviour was quite forgiveable considering that the guy did not enter into the journey willingly, but still! I’d expected more courage and bravery from him. Instead, it was from Hans the guide that I got to see those virtues, which was why he was my favorite character.

1.5 stars!

I don't want to stop reading but have to..

Unwanted: A Novel - Kristina Ohlsson

I'm only 4% in but I'm hooked! I think it's the way the story is told and also the swiftness we are thrust into the whole mystery of the missing child.

 

I expect MURDER! CORPSE! ASAP!

 

Clearly my kind of book...

 

 

Getting in trouble here isn’t like getting in trouble at home.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls - Claire Legrand,  Sarah  Watts (Illustrator)
“Victoria Wright had only one friend, and he wasn’t even a real friend; he was a project, someone to fix and whip into shape.”


So, when Lawrence disappeared one day, Victoria missed him terribly much although she refused to admit it – at first. Also, she started questioning things when no one seemed to bother with Lawrence’s disappearance. In fact, they didn’t seem to remember him. Her investigation led her to Nine Silldie Place or what was known as The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls where she met Mrs. Cavendish and her gardener, Mr. Alice. Plot began to thicken up once Victoria talked to Mr. Tilbat, whose friend, Vivian Goodfellow never returned from the Home after she went inside to investigate. Vivian’s final fate was revealed in the end and it was not pleasant at all. I really liked her character from the little that I’ve seen of her.

Anyway, Victoria too ended up being taken by Mrs. Cavendish after the woman deemed Victoria as being too nosy. At the home, Victoria was reunited with Lawrence and some of the other missing children. She also met gobers, some kind of helpers for Mrs. Cavendish. Mrs. Cavendish hated the gobers and the reason was revealed together with the origin of the gobers. It was horrible and macabre. I think it was the sickest part of the story. The children, besides being submitted to rigid rules and severe punishments, were also made to attend pointless lessons and recited sentences like below.

“Children, whether they are boys or girls, educated or ignorant, must be as silent as possible as much as possible. Children are neither clever nor experienced enough to judge for themselves what is and what is not to be said. They must therefore and at all times defer to the wisdom of their elders. They must never speak out of turn. They must never be contrary. They must be extraordinary without being out of the ordinary.”


Victoria sometimes annoyed me but she was also charming and I can’t help but smile at some of her behaviors. Her bossy attitude was also not unlike mine so yeah… She said things like “I swear on my academic reports.” and actually being serious about it too! Her interaction with Lawrence was sweet, funny and endearing. It was amazing too the length she would go to find Lawrence considering that she was no rule breaker and always strove to be the perfect daughter as well as student. She took her name very seriously and used it as a motivation to be the top in everything along with her wishes to make her parents proud of her.

Overall, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls was a creepy book. The ending particularly crept me and I shuddered to think of the fate of the children in Belleville especially with Victoria, Lawrence and the rest of the children who remember the Home were grown up and already gone from the town.

 

How easy it was to lie when one had to lie!

Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith
“Let not the young souls be smothered out before,
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.
Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly,
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap,
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve,
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.”
- The Leaden-Eyed by Vachel Lindsay



On his way home on a train, Guy Haines met Charles Bruno. Despite him trying not to be bothered with the latter, Guy found himself end up telling Bruno about his wife infidelity and him wanting a divorce after listening to Bruno’s hatred of his father. Bruno then proceeded to come up with a “perfect murder” plan where Guy would kill Bruno’s father while Bruno would kill Guy’s wife, Miriam. This way they both would establish perfect alibis at the time of the murders without the police making connection of the murders. Guy rejected the proposal, dismissing it more as Bruno being crazy. However, Bruno actually continued with his crazy plan and murdered Miriam. Then, he started bothering Guy to keep his part of the bargain, even resorting to threat when Guy ignored him. 

Now, it was here that the story really made me roll my eyes. Having watched the movie, Guy disappointed me with him making stupid decision after stupid decision. It was almost like the man suffered from lack of brain or lack of will or both. His stupidity was further proven by the way he met his end by the end of the book. He and his big mouth, I just cannot believe it. Anyway, I did think he was more of mentally imbalanced towards the end. He and Bruno were really, really bad for each other especially with Bruno literally stalking Guy’s every move and following him around.

What I enjoyed was any scene where Detective Gerards was in. He was the detective Bruno’s father hired in order to find out should anything happened to him. The old man was suspecting that his own son was ill and would try to kill him. I also had a satisfying HA! moment when it finally hit Guy’s thick head that Gerards was the only person who can help him out of the mess despite Bruno’s threat because Gerards knew Bruno, and therefore unlikely to be deceived by his twisted story. But of course it was too late for Guy when he did realize that. Alas!

honest, I like Hitchcock’s plot much, much better. I guess I am a straightforward person and I prefer the usual evil (Bruno) vs. good (Guy) storyline. The movie also seemed to make more sense than the book which was unnecessarily wordy and filled with stupid thoughts and decisions courtesy of Guy Haines.

Another book on strangers meeting each other

Strangers: An Exclusive Short Story - Camilla Grebe, Asa Traff

Strangers was told from a third person point of view of an unnamed character. He was planning to kidnap a woman so he could do horrible things to her and maybe kill her later.

The plan was for him to appear helpless and need help in order to lift a heavy long desk into the back of his van. Once the woman stopped to help him and went inside the van, he would drive away. It was an almost perfect plan except the first woman he targeted didn't stop to help; the second woman was already inside the man when another man came to help and therefore our unnamed protagonist was again thwarted in his evil intention. He almost succeeded with the third woman until that little plot twist happened. It was funny in a twisted way and actually made me laugh out loud.

Currently reading

The Bride of Lammermoor (Oxford World's Classics)
Walter Scott, Fiona Robertson
Progress: 24 %