[BOOK] The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

y648This was my first Agatha Christie book. I’ve always enjoyed murder/mysteries and detective stories, most especially Sherlock Holmes (I’m currently trying to read all of his novels and short stories in between the other books I’m reading). Knowing that, I realized, why have I never tried reading Agatha Christie’s books? I’ve heard nothing but good things about her work, so why have I never shown interest? So I remedied that.

From her website, I saw that they have a list of her books per series so I decided to start with the Hercule Poirot series, with the first book called “The Mysterious Affair At Styles.”

At first, it felt a lot like another Sherlock Holmes packaged differently – Sherlock Holmes as Hercule Poirot (a brilliant detective), John Watson as Hastings (the narrator and trusted side kick) and Lestrade as Inspector Japp. I must admit, at the beginning, I was put off by the fact that the dynamics felt a bit too familiar and similar to that of Sherlock Holmes and I couldn’t help but feel that it was a rip off of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic. However, after reading some background on Agatha Christie’s novels, apparently Hastings does not appear in all Poirot stories. I’m interested to see how those stories develop as opposed to this one. I understand that it’s unfair to judge Christie’s works based on just this one. So I look forward to reading her other novels and short stories. I might try a Miss Marple Mystery novel sometime soon.

Anyway, I can safely say that Poirot is such an endearing character as he has a certain comical warmth that sets him apart from Holmes. Both are obviously brilliant but that just really means their creators are at a league of their own. Hercule Poirot just exudes a different aura from Sherlock Holmes (in my mind, at least) that makes him more likeable as opposed to Sherlock Holmes’ more confident (or close to) arrogant brilliance.

Here’s the synopsis of The Mysterious Affair at Styles from Goodreads:

Who poisoned the wealthy Emily Inglethorpe, and how did the murderer penetrate and escape from her locked bedroom? Suspects abound in the quaint village of Styles St. Mary–from the heiress’s fawning new husband to her two stepsons, her volatile housekeeper, and a pretty nurse who works in a hospital dispensary. Making his unforgettable debut, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on the case. The key to the success of this style of detective novel, writes Elizabeth George in her Introduction, lies in how the author deals with both the clues and the red herrings, and it has to be said that no one bettered Agatha Christie at this game.

This book introduced me to the term “red herring.” Being a lover of Murder/Mysteries and typical “Detective” stories, I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve come across such a term. But man, does this story have it. It was a true roller coaster and I was pleasantly surprised that this is something I have not felt so far in Sherlock Holmes’ stories. I have yet to complete the entire collection but so far, it hasn’t surprised me in its revelations as much as The Mysterious Affair at Styles did.

I would have to say that this was a brilliant introduction to the world of Hercule Poirot. Surely, this would not be my one and only Poirot book. Looking forward to the others and more.

NinthMelody rating: 9/10

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[BOOK] The Vegetarian.

IMG_6145The Vegetarian by Han Kang was the 2016 winner of the Man Booker International Prize. Originally in Korean language, The Vegetarian was translated to English by Deborah Smith. Despite international acclaim, in Korea, the translated version was criticized by the people for having been translated incorrectly or not as faithful to that of the original work.

(Can I just say, I LOVE the cover of this book. It’s dark, yet inviting.)

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

The book is divided into 3 parts: The Vegetarian, The Mongolian Mark and The Flaming Trees. It was originally released in Korean as three separate novellas and then compiled together as a novel when translated into English.

The first chapter, The Vegetarian, is narrated by Yeong-hye’s husband, Mr. Cheong, in the first person. It shows Yeong-Hye’s sudden change from being a normal, reserved wife into a manic vegetarian/vegan from her husband’s perspective.

“I’ve always inclined toward the middle course in life. At school I chose to boss around those who were two or three years my junior, and with whom I could act the ringleader, rather than take my chances with those my own age, and later I chose which college to apply to based on my chances of obtaining a scholarship large enough for my needs. Ultimately, I settled for a job where I would be provided with a decent monthly salary in return for diligently carrying out my allotted tasks, at a company whose small size meant they would value my unremarkable skills. And so it was only natural that I would marry the most run-of-the-mill woman in the world. As for women who were pretty, intelligent, strikingly sensual, the daughters of rich families – they would only have served to disrupt my carefully ordered existence.”

This excerpt from the first chapter, second page in, would best describe Yeong-Hye’s husband. He’s a self-absorbed, selfish man whose decisions in life are solely made based on what would best serve him. Practical, you might say, but there’s a thin line between self-preservation and being self-serving. Judging from the way he treats his wife, Yeong-Hye, in the book, it’s as if he expects her to exist only for his benefit. When she suddenly turns vegan and decides to cut off all meat products in their home, he goes berserk and asks how she could be so selfish? Even as he asks this of her, his selfishness comes out seeing that instead of wondering what is happening with his wife and being concerned for her well-being, he, instead questions why he has to suffer just because of her sudden change in lifestyle.

The whole vegetarianism started when Yeong-Hye, one day, had a dream about having a blood-soaked shirt and a violent urge to consume more meat. In fear of this pent up violence inside her wanting to claw its way out, she refused to eat meat thus refusing to even serve it for her husband, which causes Mr. Cheong to go bananas at her. For months, she refused to eat meat and eventually she rarely slept because of those dreams she had of violence and aggression. She felt that the moment she succumbs to eating meat, the urge to hurt someone, even murder, would surface. Ironically, despite repressing this violence she feels inside, her actions explicitly bring out violence from other people surrounding her.

The Mongolian Mark, the second chapter of the book, is seen through the perspective of Yeong-Hye’s brother-in-law. He is an artist, searching for an inspiration, which he finds in a Mongolian Mark in Yeong-Hye’s body. He eventually becomes obsessed with an idea to film a video involving his sister-in-law painted with flowers.

“In precisely that moment he was struck by the image of a blue flower on a woman’s buttocks, its petals opening outward. In his mind, the fact that his sister-in-law still had a Mongolian mark on her buttocks became inexplicably bound up with the image of men and women having sex, their naked bodies completely covered with painted flowers.”

The final chapter, The Flaming Trees, shows the perspective of Yeong-hye’s sister, In-Hye. She, herself, struggles from the events that happened especially with her husband’s involvement with her frail-minded sister. After what transpired in Chapter 2, Yeong-Hye has now been admitted to a mental institution. It’s been three years since she first became a vegetarian and she has barely slept since then. Her condition does not seem to get any better and now, she has even held onto the idea that she wants to become a tree thus refuses to eat at all. When the people told her she would die if she continues to not eat, she responds, “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?” 

_____

I find that The Vegetarian is a book that speaks about different hidden traumas that ultimately affect one even years later. That pent up emotions eventually start to devour you from the inside.

It’s interesting to note that Han Kang appears to be really affected by the Gwangju uprising seeing as how this event briefly crops up in The Vegetarian while it is also the main plot in her other book, Human Acts (which I plan to blog about sometime soon).

I will admit that there are things I do not understand about this book but I appreciate that it makes one think and internalize the ideas brought out in The Vegetarian. I truly want to completely understand Han Kang’s thought process but obviously, that’s not possible.

NinthMelody rating: 8/10

 

[BOOK] The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

IMG_6117This book was my first exposure to Neil Gaiman and I was excited because I’ve heard amazing things about his work. I wasn’t sure what the book was about though except for what was stated in the synopsis.

Synopsis:

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse where she once lived, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

I was fairly surprised that it was much like a fairytale for adults. I guess I didn’t expect it to have a fantasy/supernatural angle since the book looked normal enough. (That’s what I get for judging a book by its cover) I was expecting it to be a contemporary/mystery type but man, was I wrong. My mistake was that I did not look into what Neil Gaiman’s usual genre is like. It was a beautiful mistake, nevertheless.

When I first read the synopsis, I imagined it to be something like Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects or Dark Places, where a dark secret is buried in the past that the protagonist forgot, possibly a crime so horrendous that traumatized the protagonist. But no, it was just my crime/mystery-loving mind playing tricks on me.

The protagonist of the story was unnamed throughout the book as it was told in first-person account which was probably intended to make the reader feel more connected to the story, as if it happened to the reader personally. I, for one, did not exactly feel this effect. I was detached from it and I actually would’ve preferred it had the protagonist been named. I would have had a better, clearer idea of what he was like. I like to imagine the characters in my head, sometimes based on their names. (Or maybe that’s just me..)

It was an easily readable suspenseful mystery that was filled with supernatural events. There were times when I felt scared of this creature plaguing the protagonist and I had to put it down until the next morning when the darkness has lost its power. Despite the book’s mystical theme, it also has hidden philosophical gems which I found to be quite a delight.

Chapter VI: “Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.”

I love the idea of children knowing more absolute truths than the adults as we filter our truths by ruling out what we deem impossible. “Adults follow paths.” There’s a specific way of thinking, doing things and adults normally don’t stray from that path because we think it’s either not plausible, ludicrous, or just plain unthinkable. “Children explore.” The beauty of not knowing is that there’s a possibility of learning through exploration. As kids, their imagination is so vast because they’re not limited to just sticking to the norm, they explore and experiment. This, as adults, is what we need to relearn and rediscover in our lives.

Chapter XIV: ‘Nothing’s ever the same,’ she said. ‘Be it a second later or a hundred years. It’s always churning and roiling. And people change as much as oceans.’

The fact that everything changes, every time, all the time, means that the concept of staying the same is virtually non-existent.

The book, all in all, was a good read. I wouldn’t say fun – as it wasn’t. In fact, it was more sad than fun. Heartbreaking, possibly but not exactly. Confused? Read and you shall understand.

NinthMelody rating: 7.5/10 

[MOVIE][BOOK] Ready Player One.

[MOVIE]

RPO_MAIN_VERT_DOM_2764x4096_master-1I’d heard so much about the book “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline before the movie even came out. I, however, was not able to read it prior to watching the movie in the cinema (yes, this is a very late post). After seeing the trailers online, it piqued my interest but I didn’t really know what to expect.

I just knew that it was about a virtual reality game called the OASIS and there’s a hidden treasure everyone’s looking for, designed by the creator of the game itself, Halliday. On the day of his death, a video message from Halliday informed everyone about this Treasure Hunt that would grant the winner all of Halliday’s fortune. The hunt is not as easy as following a map as it requires in depth knowledge of Halliday’s life to accurately solve the riddles to find the 3 keys that would lead to the treasure.

The movie itself was fun and full of 80s-90s pop culture icons and trivia. It’s a movie that would surely invoke nostalgic memories to people who would understand the references. Obviously, if you don’t get the reference, it would just seem like an ordinary line or an insignificant detail. Anyway, the movie was very well done and the side characters were amusing, even more so than the main character, to be honest.

The avatars of the characters in the movie were more prominent than the actual actors. They spent more time in the digital world than in the real world but I don’t really mind. The virtual world was more appealing anyway since the real world is just a mess and everyone’s logged into their VR gears anyway. In a way, it mirrors the circumstances that plague our society now. We’re more invested in our online, social lives that we sometimes forget to just live in the moment. More often than not, we stare at our phones immersed being our social media persona despite being in an actual situation with other people.

The story of Ready Player One is immersive and the execution was top-notch. I mean, Steven Spielberg, everybody. There was an unforgettable part in the movie where the main character is about to insert the much-coveted key into the final door – that seems easy enough to do. However, in the real world, he’s being chased by the bad guys who are hell-bent on making sure he doesn’t succeed. So the door is right there in front of him, key in hand, yet he just can’t insert it in the keyhole making all the audience frustrated. It’s a perfect execution of suspense in film, in my opinion.

[BOOK]

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Since I’ve already seen the movie before I even attempted to read the book, I had a fair idea of what to expect but to my surprise, the movie was merely based on the book and was not a complete adaptation. The plot was the same but the details are completely different. Wade Watts, in the book, is a student who goes to school in the OASIS. Yes, a virtual school. How cool is that? In the movie, well, he’s not really anything. I don’t believe he has work. His whole life is in the OASIS. How he eats, beats me.

The way the characters finds the keys, the circumstances in which they solve the riddles, the characters themselves – they are different from the movie. I can’t say which one I liked better as they are both interesting and fun. The book doesn’t shy away from death of characters and so it feels darker than the movie. The standard of darkness, however, is more like a purple compared to the pink of the movie.

Apart from the clear ‘adventure’ both the book and movie want to showcase, Ready Player One also sends out an important message of not letting the virtual/digital world take over our lives. It encourages people to interact with people in real life and have fun, go on adventures together, build relationships and to log out.

NinthMelody rating:  8/10

 

 

[BOOK] House of Leaves.

This monster of a book is one of the first books I bought this year. I’ve always wanted to read it since the moment I heard about it. I just found the idea so intriguing and challenging so when I bought it, I immediately started reading it. Unfortunately, I got busy and so I decided to just continue it some other time. Bad idea.

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House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is the type of book that requires your full, undivided attention. Otherwise, you’ll just get lost in the maze and it would be difficult to find your way back. To explain the premise of House of Leaves to someone who has never heard of the book is quite complicated.

IMG_6101Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” is supposedly a fictional book written by a fictional character named “Zampanò” which is an in-depth study of the Navidson Record (a short film by Will Navidson about his experiences in his house in Virginia). The unfinished novel by Zampanò and all its other notes/whatnots were then discovered by Johnny Truant in the late Zampanò’s apartment. Johnny, intrigued by it all, decides it was up to him to finish Zampanò’s novel where he then affixes random footnotes to add to the already overwhelming manuscript.

That basic knowledge is what’s needed to mildly ease the sometimes overwhelming barrage of information from different narrators that you would encounter in the book -there’s Zampanò, Johnny Truant and the Editor. Their narrations can be distinguished through the different types of fonts used throughout the book. Aside from the occasional informational footnote from Johnny, he would most of the time digress into story-telling about his life that may or may not be related/connected to the narration of Zampanò. There are times when the storyline about Navy (Navidson) and his family is at its best then suddenly Johnny interjects with pages of his rants about his life that annoys the readers (me, at least) since you just want to find out what in the world is happening with Navy inside the house. Of course, that’s just one of Danielewski’s way of creating suspense and cliffhangers at important parts of the story. It’s smart but hella frustrating.

One thing I forgot to mention about the Navidson Record is that the film hopes to show the strange anomaly that is the house.Navy and his family find a mysterious hallway in their living room which appears bigger on the inside (a TARDIS? Unfortunately, not) and may or may not go on endlessly. Navy and a few of his acquaintances venture into the dark hallways to see what lies within the darkness and beyond. The hallways can sometimes be wide, narrow, long, short and constantly evolving. It’s the king of mazes. Danielewski immerses the reader in the world of the House of Leaves by playing with the design and placement of text inside the book. When the passage is narrow, the text also gradually become narrower as the pages go by. It’s a way to not only make the readers feel the constricted space the characters are experiencing, it also slows down the reader’s pace in reading the book, thus helping build a tension that grows as you flip each page to find out what eventually happens.

I listened to a podcast by Overdue Podcast about the House of Leaves and it pretty much sums up all my thoughts and more. Give it a listen but be warned, SPOILER ALERT.

Overdue Podcast – House of Leaves

Also, I also bought “The Whalestoe Letters” which is a compilation of all the letters by Johnny’s mother while she was in the Three Attic Whalestoe Institute, a mental institution. It is not a MUST for those who just want to read the House of Leaves since the majority of the letters are included in the book itself as a part of the Appendix. There are just additional letters included in the standalone “The Whalestoe Letters” which some people might find interesting/important to their understanding of the story. It’s a nice little addition to the experience but ultimately, not that necessary.

House of Leaves is definitely one of those books that require or demand a discussion from different readers to further understand the story or to gain more perspective about the book. I believe this is what Mark Z. Danielewski’s intent when he writes his books. Not only does he make books that would make you want to consult other people to hear their thoughts on the book, he wants the readers to actively participate in finding out more about the story and eventually come up with a story of their own. Really, the amount of theories and thoughts one can find online from different people are just amazing. It’s like a whole community sleuthing around to solve a mystery.

NinthMelody rating: 8/10

 

E-Book Hoarder

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Went on a book-buying binge yesterday when I saw the Kindle deals and Pachinko had a huge discount. I’ve been wanting to buy Pachinko but I’ve always felt that the price for the Kindle edition was too expensive so when it went on sale yesterday, I just went for it.

Along with Pachinko were other books that looked interesting enough and they were only between $1-$3 so without even noticing it, I’ve already downloaded around $20 worth of books. Yep, that’s right! $20

Update: Apparently, more than $20 since the Harry Potter Illustrated Edition alone was already $9.99. So I’ve decided that I’m banning myself from buying any more books, for the month of August, at least.

E-Books bought:

  1. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  2. 1984 – George Orwell
  3. The Problem With Forever – Jennifer Armentrout
  4. Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
  5. 13 Little Blue Envelopes – Maureen Johnson
  6. Puddin’ – Julie Murphy
  7. The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie
  8. Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
  9. Fishbowl – Bradley Somer
  10. Girl in the Blue Coat – Monica Hesse
  11. Tips For Living – Renée Shafransky
  12. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North
  13. The Oracle Year – Charles Soule
  14. The Good Girl – Mary Kubica
  15. Dracula – Bram Stoker
  16. Darkness There – Edgar Allan Poe
  17. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Illustrated Edition) – JK Rowling
  18. Ricochet Joe – Dean Koontz
  19. The Brothers Grimm Illuminated Fairy Tales

*Unmentioned books were ones I already had before in the app and were not purchased during the Kindle deal

Then, I found out about these cool new things called “Kindle in Motion.” They’re basically ebooks that can be read on any Kindle app for iOS or Android. They’re illustrated versions of select books which either have embedded images or videos and honestly, they look so pretty, I wish all books had it.

My favorite, of course, is the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Illustrated Version) with “Kindle in Motion.” I have not bought the physical book yet so I was so happy to see that there was a Kindle version of it and my oh my.. it looks even better with animation.

I couldn’t upload the video here so here’s my tweet about it:

[BOOK] Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel

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Around a month ago, I was contacted by Mira Tudor, the author of “Poets, Artists, Lovers,” to ask if I was willing to read her book and write my thoughts about it. At first, I was surprised since it was an unexpected request. When I was sent the synopsis of the book, I became excited finding out that it would be about Literature, Arts & Music – topics that are generally interesting in my opinion.

As described by Mira Tudor herself, here’s the description of the book:

‘Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel’ is a fast-paced yet poignant character-driven novel riding waves of romanticism, drama, and wit in a manner reminiscent in parts of David Nicholls’s books (One Day)—and set in the exciting world of several vibrant Romanian artists and musicians.

Henriette, an accomplished sculptor, seems to find more joy in her feminist-inspired work and her piano playing than in the people who care about her. Ela, a piano teacher turned book reviewer, hopes to discover the key to happiness and a more meaningful life through studying the workings of the mind and crafting poems about emotions she trusts will lead her to a better place. Joining them in beauty and blindness is Pamfil, a violinist who dabbles as a singer and lives mostly for the moment and his monthly parties. As they follow their passions, they find themselves on treacherous journeys to love and happiness, and are slow to figure out how to best tackle their predicaments. Fortunately, their lovers and friends are there to help . . . but then a newcomer complicates things.

The title truly was on point. The book was full of poets, artists and lovers. In fact, the book was full of such talents that it makes you wonder how all these people found each other and how their lives became entangled. I guess, people with similar interests really do find their way towards each other.

At first, the sheer number of characters caught me off guard and threw me off a bit, causing me to step back a few pages every time I forgot who’s who and who’s in a relationship with whom. Once I got a hold on the basic relationships, I was able to follow the plot easily. The storyline moves between the past and the present as it introduces new characters and intertwining of relationships. Keeping up with the years can be a bit tricky if you don’t take note what year a chapter takes place.

The novel referenced a number of works of art and music pieces that I am sad to say, I am not familiar with. I truly wish I was knowledgeable enough in such areas to truly understand and appreciate the reason why they were mentioned in the first place. I’m sure it would’ve made more sense to me had I known whether the music one couple danced to was an upbeat or a mellow or a sad song. The author clearly had a vast understanding and grasp on these subjects, unfortunately, I don’t. I sincerely wanted to know what the author wanted to convey with the choice of music and art in specific scenes as I wanted to fully grasp the emotion associated with those choices.

I like how the story was actually quite realistic in the sense that things don’t always work out the way we want it to. Life isn’t always peaches and cream; as if your life was a movie. I just wish the novel had focused more on just a few characters with an in depth backstory for each so there’s room for more character development and that the readers can relate more to what they’re going through at any given moment.

Are men normally as patient and understanding as Haralambie and George, though? I was quite surprised or even, skeptical that such men would exist in this world. If they do exist, um, where are they and why have I not met them yet? As for Pamfil, sorry to say, I am not a fan. A guy who seems to attract the eye of every woman he meets and does not shy away from flirting with anyone who shows an interest in him – sounds like bad news to me.

You know what would make the experience complete? If this had been a movie. The novel talks about sculptures, art, music, food and the romantic setting of Romania. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could experience all those visually with the appropriate music playing in the background? It would be a complete sensory orgasm. Gives me chills just thinking about it. Match it with the complicated relationships and dramas, this would make good television. I truly do wish this could make its way to the screen. I think it would translate well. Please make it happen. ;p

If you want to check out the book, it’s FREE on Kindle Unlimited or you may purchase it on Amazon.

NinthMelody Rating: 6/10