Okay, to get it out of the way: Charmain is one of the main characters I've ever come across who I did not particularly care for. And, believe you me,...moreOkay, to get it out of the way: Charmain is one of the main characters I've ever come across who I did not particularly care for. And, believe you me, I am saddened by that fact.
I thought that she was going to be this young lady who, despite having her head up in the clouds with her books, will display some charming qualities that would make her irreverent and interesting. But -- spoiler alert (?) -- she turned out to be selfish, thoughtless, lazy, irresponsible, rude, and ungrateful.
Sure, the novel seemed to attempt to show her in a bit of good light later on. But there really is that impression -- at least with this reader -- that she did not come away from her adventure truly learning anything for the improvement of her attitude or behavior.
Good thing, at least, that there were Howl and Co. to make the story somewhat bearable. Better, still, that Howl in this instance was so adorable to such an extent that I kept having the compulsion to re-read Howl's Moving Castle. Sophie was still Sophie although she really was more preoccupied with being a mother to a bratty (?) son (sorry, Morgan. But you really are a handful. I wonder if Howl finds you intolerable).
Curiously enough, this third installment to Howl -- aside from being the one I least liked -- also seemed to feature a truly formidable and frightening enemy. The respective quote-unquote antagonists in Moving Castle and in Castle in the Air were devious in their own ways but were not what I would call as "cold-blooded killers".
The lubbock in this novel, however, is as bad as they get. And it is the first time in this series that the author perpetuated the feeling of abject fear for the lives of the protagonists.
My point, though? Nothing. I just thought it was a curious fact that there's a darker "feeling" in this novel.
Another aspect that I found peculiar in this story, with respect to the first 2 novels, is the flimsiness of the "conflict" necessitating a wizard's interference: investigating where the coffers of gold are disappearing to.
Maybe I was spoiled by the first 2 installments. They had the honest-to-god-goodness feel of being real adventures. And almost all characters were funny. But this third book seemed a bit flat. A little lackluster. Maybe because of Charmain and her churlishness.
Or maybe it's me. And I just didn't want to accept that, after this, I would never encounter any adventure of Howl and Sophie's ever again. *(unless I'm wrong -- someone please correct me if I am horribly wrong. I shall welcome it).(less)
Perhaps it is a measure of how excited I was over the prospect of encountering Howl and Sophie again, that, for quite some time, I deluded myself into...morePerhaps it is a measure of how excited I was over the prospect of encountering Howl and Sophie again, that, for quite some time, I deluded myself into believing that Flower-in-the-Night was their daughter and that the garden where Abdullah and she first met is the same one found in the property that Howl (and Calcifer) found for Sophie.
But of course that was firmly squashed once Flower-in-the-Night described the only man she has ever seen in all her life -- her father. Howl with a belly? Inconceivable.
Quickly recovering from that mild disappointment, I continued on with Abdullah's exploits with the flying carpet. And, after turning the last page, I can come up with nothing less than praise for this sequel. Not a single chapter will bore the reader. And every new adventure is better than the last.
Abdullah turned out to be an extremely likeable, hugely relatable character. He is far from stupid or recklessly impulsive, yet events conspire to put him in the middle of a rut that leaves you smacking your palm against your forehead. And continue reading.
And Flower-in-the-Night is so surreal-lynice and surprisingly smart about the ways of the world, considering her sheltered childhood. Though not as iron-willed as Sophie, she will nevertheless surprise readers by her level-headedness. I would admit that I was initially hardly interested in Abdullah's resolve to rescue her, as I -- once again -- believed that she might turn out to be flighty or self-centered. But the woman Abdullah encountered in moving castle was hardly a damsel in distress. And, is, in fact, more than a match for any man.
The surprisingly refreshing aspect of this novel, as well, is the lack of a purely, fervently, evil character for the sake of pitting good against bad. The one being that had to be "bad" -- if the story really had to have a "bad" persona -- turned out to be so comical as to be endearing.
Actually -- come to think of it -- practically every character in the novel was hilarious, that I soon forgot that I was on the lookout for Howl or Sophie.
For sure, when the time came for the "big reveals", I was left slack-jawed and asking myself, "how the hell did I not realize---??"
And, oh, how wonderful it was to indeed, finally be reacquainted once again with Howl and Co. The story can sure stand alone relative to Howl's Moving Castle yet is still very much influenced by the memorable characters from that novel. This sequel truly is a treat.(less)
I cannot recall what exactly got me going, but about a month ago, I found myself suddenly gripped with restless yearning to watch (or re-watch) any fi...moreI cannot recall what exactly got me going, but about a month ago, I found myself suddenly gripped with restless yearning to watch (or re-watch) any film by Studio Ghibli. I cannot remember if this was brought about by seeing a Ghibli film on cable around that time (honestly, I can't remember if this happened, or what film it was if such a thing indeed occurred), or coming across a post in tumblr about a Ghibli film. Nevertheless, the restlessness took root and had to be quenched.
So for the following weeks, I re-watched the likes of My Neighbor Totoro (and promptly fell in love all over again), Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, while belatedly discovering the wonders in the likes of From Up on Poppy Hill, Only Yesterday, Whisper of the Heart, The Wind Rises, Porco Rosso, Nausicaa, The Cat Returns, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. I staunchly refrained from re-watching Grave of the Fireflies because I refuse to subject my feelings to that kind of raw pain again.
Amidst the re-discovery and the new discoveries that have left me -- up to this day -- thirsty for more Ghibli productions, there's really only 2 films that have strong sentimental value to me: Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. The former because it was the first ever Ghibli film I watched and is perhaps solely responsible for why I am writing this right now; and the latter as the second film which cemented this awe I have with this brand of animation.
True, Ghibli's rendition of Howl's Moving Castle, for me, was not so much preoccupied with a tidiness in plot as with rendering unforgettable special effects. Thus, as breathtakingly beautiful animation films go, Howl will always have choice spot.
Then of course, in re-watching Howl, there arose the disquiet on the perhaps-unintentional vagueness in some aspects of its storyline. In between the scenes when Sophie kept reverting from being a bent old woman to her own young self albeit with grey hair, and the somewhat confusing scene when she encountered the younger Howl, I wanted to know how the novel the film was based on fared against its silverscreen counterpart.
It helped that Diana Wynne Jones apparently gave her approval on this Ghibli adaptation -- this, in spite of the fact that Miyazaki was observed to have significantly veered away from huge aspects of the novel.
And, after reading the novel, let me tell you here and now: if Ghibli's Howl was enjoyable, Jones' Howl was even more so. I would go far as to say that it would be a huge injustice (to yourself) if you confine (er... yourself) to only watching the film adaptation.
Because Howl and Sophie on paperback is infinitely more charming. More engrossing. And more engaging. Certainly had oodles of space to grow as characters.
Reading Jones' novel did, in fact, resuscitate one reservation I didn't know I still had after having watched Ghibli's Howl those many years ago. The romance between the two. The wonder of witchcraft and sorcery and magic in the film can perhaps be excused for blinding the viewer to the glaring deficiency in developing the feelings between Sophie and Howl.
(and -- I will stop you right in your tracks before you break something in your fervor to violently protest something so insipid as romantic love. I take no notice of the fact that this is categorized as "children's fantasy". And I don't mind that neither is this pegged as "romance," -- it would be foolhardy to simply refer to this work as one. What it does is straddle the charm that can be found between the easy reading of children's lit and the feel-good sensation of budding romance.)
The novel will show you just how this "love" wondrously came about. There are the incessant bickering between Howl and Sophie. The moments when Howl forgot himself and actually showed kindness in front of Sophie's disbelieving eyes. In times when he expressed exasperation over Sophie's new mishaps, and in times when Sophie slowly truly became Howl's champion, precisely because of his flaws.
Howl in the film is -- let's be honest -- shallow. In the sense that he is shallow for vanity as well as shallow for anything inherently good. There is the impression that he found a bit of humanity once Sophie came into his life, but precious little is left for anyone else. In the novel, he presents himself as all things undesirable from the get-go, but is, in truth, much more than he lets on.
Jones' novel will also show just how much more complex Sophie's family's role is. And, really, how much more there actually are characters in the story. And how everyone is so expertly entwined with the lives of one another that you marvel at the intricacies that Jones has woven.
I implore you to read this novel. Watching the film will help, if only to visually show how Howl's castle is ensorcelled. But for everything else, Jones' novel will leave you with an infinitely more satisfying feeling.
And it got better when I realized there were two -- yes 2! -- sequels. Because Howl and Sophie is a couple that you will find difficult to tear away from.(less)
I was truly enjoying this novel about halfway through. There, indeed, was something quite delicious in trying to unravel...more--spoiler alert... I think?--
I was truly enjoying this novel about halfway through. There, indeed, was something quite delicious in trying to unravel a “locked-room” mystery. And this was certainly written in a way that will confound readers to an extent that a supernatural bent could even be chosen as final recourse, so seemingly impossible was the feat by which the supposed “assailant” escaped notice in making his or her… well, escape.
But the novel, in feeding the reader piecemeal evidentiary facts to sensory impressions or astounding hypotheses, instead served to remind me of the premise of the parody film, Murder by Death. The revelatory ending scene showed Capote’s character accusing the whodunit genre – in the guise of admonishing the famous detectives/ sleuthing aficionados gathered around him – of belatedly providing its readers heretofore-unforeseen or wholly unexpected twists in the plot that did not fit one single scene in the previous chapters. Or of introducing totally new characters out of nowhere just to conveniently suit the ending as the author sees fit.
Yep. This is how I felt during those moments when Rouletabille: (1) revealed to Sainclair how he conveniently came upon the phrase concerning the presbytery, etc. [at that point I already felt cheated by the protagonist for having had valuable access to information before the incident in the Yellow Room] ; (2) just about mentioned to the reader, oh, by the way, just in case the reader’s interested, that there happened to be a notice in the papers well before the incident concerning Mlle’s Strangerson’s missing reticule; (3) revealed what he found in the concierges’ home that made them guilty of a certain petty crime rather than as accessory to the attempted murder; (3) later mentioned that he actually saw the healing scar on the hand of the villain that also served to further affirm his suspicions; (4) disclosed that there was a certain IMPORTANT portion of Mlle Strangerson’s life that was totally unaccounted for (and an aunt??); and, of course, (5) divulged to all and sundry that Larsan was this heretofore other character that the reader absolutely knew nothing about nor realized should have had knowledge about.
I don’t know. But these tidbits of revelations and HOW they were revealed soured me to the way the novel uncovered the supposed truths of the incident. Too many details given later that were not even remotely hinted at. Too many details that felt like a sucker punch to the sensibilities of a reader. A plot twist is all well and good – really, plot twists are what attract us to these mystery novels – but a plot twist borne on the shoulders of absolutely out-of-the-motherfudgin’-blue circumstances just takes the wow factor out of enjoying the exposition.
This was long-winded. And I kept saying 'heretofore'. Damn.
Story short: two and a half oh, okay, then… THREE stars.
Highly-enjoyable (and funny!) read – though perhaps my enjoyment in it stemmed more from the dialogues/ banter between the characters and the way Bern...moreHighly-enjoyable (and funny!) read – though perhaps my enjoyment in it stemmed more from the dialogues/ banter between the characters and the way Bernie’s mind worked rather than from how the plot eventually unfurled.
To get it out of the way: no, I really was not all that enthused with how the truth came about. Or what the cause of the crimes turned out to be. It was a bit of a downer, to put it mildly.
But I am trying not to dwell on that (taken as a whole, the execution of the denouement could perhaps be considered trivial in the larger scheme of the novel) and, instead, focus on how this book did entertain me.
It has been glossed to death how ironic the premise is: that a burglar, in the “harmless” intention of stealing a book whose current existence and location was not even a cemented fact, suddenly found himself having to solve a series of deaths played out in the manner of the English whodunit greats in a conveniently-English-ish setting. And that’s how the charm of this work finds footing.
Bernie as a character doesn’t take himself too seriously. He knows how to poke fun at himself without it having to be about self-pity. And he’s terrific at bandying wits – be it against a 10-year old or his intrepid companion the cat or the lesbian. A laidback guy who takes things in stride whilst able to drop an inconspicuously clever rejoinder without batting an eyelash. Love him.
The novel itself in general is appealing, acting as a sort-of-backwards homage to crime novels and crime novelists alike. It embroils itself in the murky details of the deaths while regularly breaking the fourth wall by reminding the reader, that, yes, indeed… this is almost-kinda like the thing that happened in that famous Christie novel while the case of that body lying over there is just the sort of thing that Sayers will plop on the lap of the intrepid Lord Peter Wimsey…
All-in-all, a quick yet still engrossing read.(less)
I feel compelled -- seeing as this is my fourth foray into the sleuthing adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey -- to make at least a passing comment on yet...moreI feel compelled -- seeing as this is my fourth foray into the sleuthing adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey -- to make at least a passing comment on yet this another work of Ms. Dorothy Sayers that I chose to read over the dozen (and counting) other titles by perhaps more or less illustrious writers in my to-read-preferably-before-I-die list.
And that's just it.
The fact is, this is my 4th time deciding to read another Wimsey novel when the likes of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and even Don Quixote, among scores more, are insistently and loudly entreating to be read, given that I have shamelessly hoarded them from over the years past and committed the pernicious sin to let them gather dust in a tiny, cramped bookshelf.
What can I say. I am slightly enamored with Lord Wimsey.
Call it a crush. A silly girly crush.
Despite the many criticisms on this character -- his high-handedness in delving into police matters that do not concern him (other than, of course, that bit of murder charge against his brother); using his name and prestige to tread where others are normally not allowed to intrude; or having the audacity to be rich so as to be able to utilize resources in the pursuit of a 'hobby' of solving crimes which are decidedly no laughing matter for those immediately involved -- I am pathetically ready to admit that I find him exceedingly charming. With a rapier wit I wish I were continually personally exposed to. Plus a dry humor almost always coupled with either self-deprecation or an affected air of grandeur.
And I adore his interactions with the esteemable Bunter and the long-suffering Parker.
I read this back now and I realize that I've yet to mention a word on what I think about Unnatural Death. See -- just thinking about Wimsey even now is proving to be a quite distraction.
It's not the most elaborate act of murder, for sure. But I think I am going to echo the other reviews (kidding, I haven't really read any) and say that the long trail of clues, true and otherwise, all the way up to that one truly breath-stopping moment in the novel, were what made this installment engrossing.
Although, to be frank, the genealogies of the Dawson and Whittaker families as they have been laid out left me with no minor headache. As well, the connection between the Whittaker and the Forrest personas could be seen from a long way off.
But other than those little niggles, I found it enjoyable seeing how Wimsey and Parker worked in tandem. Because more than half the time they really do appear like an old married couple.
And yes, I will go far as to say that I am envious of Charles as being one of the very few people who Peter will promptly affirm as a close, reliable friend. Someone, moreover, who he can pester to no end. Although his lordship will proclaim that it his friend the Inspector Parker who is the fuddy-duddy, always harassing him with annoying trivial details such as material evidence.
Okay, damn it.
I regret to inform that the foregoing is decidedly not a review.
And now please excuse me as I relish the anticipation of reading the next Wimsey novel.(less)
Cornwell stirs a reader’s bloodlust and proceeds to slake it with this novel that slowly turned overwhelming odds onto its head and mercilessly, furio...moreCornwell stirs a reader’s bloodlust and proceeds to slake it with this novel that slowly turned overwhelming odds onto its head and mercilessly, furiously, battered it with a poleaxe.
Besides being a work that drew focus on the menace of the longbow, I loved how the author made everything at first seem to be about Hook and his supposed search for redemption. But then it became bigger and bigger and suddenly a king is involved and war is staring them all in the face and redemption will apparently have to be sought in a battle that presumably signed England’s fate long before the first arrow was even loosed.
And though I’m not one much for divine intervention, I must admit that Cornwell’s ‘saintly’ artistic license was enjoyable to encounter, perhaps even more so when drawn against the faintly-derisive attitude most of the novel’s characters have toward the church and its teachings.
Sure, the ending felt a little abrupt. As if the author suddenly found himself staring at a blank page of a manuscript with no idea how to taper off. But, in truth, that little bump in the end is nothing compared to the overall satisfaction of once again experiencing Cornwell as a master at making his readers feel and smell how a medieval battle was played out. (less)
I am not one much for writing letters. I used to when I was small. And all of them were addressed to my father abroad (d...moreWhat a charming piece of work.
I am not one much for writing letters. I used to when I was small. And all of them were addressed to my father abroad (decidedly NOT unknown). Most of these, however, took no more than one page of a yellow pad. And lasted only for a few years before sputtering to a complete stop.
I cannot even recall what I wrote to him in those days. But I imagine that they were inane happenings in my as-yet uncomplicated childhood that, looking back now, were probably boring as hell.
But Jean Webster’s work reminds me how the art of handwritten correspondence is really on a league of its own. And perhaps something that only a character like Jerusha Abbot can master.
It’s not so much her ability to flit from grave despondency at what used to be her lot in life to the joys she is experiencing now in being out and about in the world, while also retrospectively appreciative of the lessons she has learned while in the Asylum. It’s more of keeping this undiluted vibrancy of the youth in the face of the silent audience of her missives. I adored how she prods and pokes at the character and imagined description of her “daddy” in the hopes of getting a reaction out of him. And yes, sustaining these letters is one of the conditions of her education… but it was the way she sustained it that kept me turning page after page. For, if it were me, and the recipient of my letters was silent as the grave (save for the odd gifts or two), it would not have been long before I wrote nonsensical stuff that perhaps would have increasingly turned slightly-hysterical for want of attention.
To be true, it became a race to reach the end of this novel – for surely we all were in tenterhooks as to the revelation of D-L-L. And perhaps most readers have already guessed way way long before the end; but I, being a special cookie, thwarted whatever hints might have been thrown my way.
And so it was really a nice surprise to this simpering reader of romance when she addressed her “first love letter.” (less)
A few pages in into this book and I already felt the first stirrings of regret.
Regret for not having read this sooner.
Regret for not having picked up...moreA few pages in into this book and I already felt the first stirrings of regret.
Regret for not having read this sooner.
Regret for not having picked up another work by this author right after having enjoyed, “The Man Who Was Thursday,”
…THREE YEARS AGO.
Yes, I regret a lot of things in life. And overlooking this piece of work for so long when it contained these tiny gems of brilliance is a shame I felt keenly long after having turned the last page on another one of Father Brown’s expositions.
Simply put: I do adore mystery who-dunnits.
And my mouth was positively salivating at the prospect of pitting Agatha Christie’s much-decorated Poirot against Chesterton’s unprepossessing priest.
Well, the priest is certainly that. Until he opens his mouth and proclaims the first of his many seemingly-extraneous observations. From “The Blue Cross” to “The Three Tools of Death,” the nature of his shrewd character set against an almost-negligible countenance besets the reader with the desire to consume more of his adventures.
To be sure, I was misled into thinking at first that Valentin would claim center-stage in this novel. And so it was nothing less than a shock when the second story righted itself.
By then, every word out of Father Brown was something to watch out for.
(For the sake of being frank, the first 3 or 4 stories were the most interesting. By the time one reaches “The Honour of Israel Gow,” one gets the feeling of bland redundancy. It picks up a bit again with “The Sign of the Broken Sword,” and tries valiantly to finish strongly by the next story.
In a sense, the whole novel could be hailed a disappointment for not having sustained the ingenuity of plot perhaps set by “The Secret Garden,” but not for anything else can I say that I regretted reading this book.