Book review: “Heat Rises” by Richard Castle

Let me start this off by saying that I have not seen a single episode of Castle. Tragic, isn’t it? And this is coming from someone who loved Nathan Fillion in Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog. The only things I know about Castle is that it’s about a writer (Richard Castle, played by Nathan Fillion) who rides along with an NYPD homicide detective (Kate Beckett, played by Stana Katic) in order to conduct research for his new book.

I have to give ABC serious props for the brilliant idea of co-branding an entire line of crime fiction books to tie-in with Castle. After all, fans of the show keep hearing about the novels that “Richard Castle” writes, so why not give them the real thing? There are two levels of enjoyment in books: the first is as a regular crime fiction reader and the second, deeper level is as a Castle fan who’ll enjoy the little meta moments sprinkled throughout the books. The best thing about the books is that they rise above being mere gimmicks and merchandise to become truly good and fun reads on their own. No, ABC has not yet revealed who the real writer behind “Richard Castle” is.

Heat Rises is the third book in the Nikki Heat series (after Heat Wave and Naked Heat) penned by Richard Castle. The blurb:

Fast-paced and full of intrigue, Heat Rises pairs the tough and sexy NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat with hotshot reporter Jameson Rook in New York Times bestselling author Richard Castle’s most thrilling mystery yet.

The bizarre murder of a parish priest at a New York bondage club opens Nikki Heat’s most thrilling and dangerous case so far, pitting her against New York’s most vicious drug lord, an arrogant CIA contractor, and a shadowy death squad out to gun her down. And that is just the tip of an iceberg that leads to a dark conspiracy reaching all the way to the highest level of the NYPD. But when she gets too close to the truth, Nikki finds herself disgraced, stripped of her badge, and out on her own as a target for killers, with nobody she can trust. Except maybe the one man in her life who’s not a cop: reporter Jameson Rook.

In the midst of New York’s coldest winter in a hundred years, there’s one thing Nikki is determined to prove:  Heat Rises.

This book in a word? Entertaining. Yes it’s a crime-mystery novel that doesn’t make light of its subject matter, but the interplay between Rook, Heat, Raley, and Ochoa is so natural and the quips flow just as effortlessly. Even if it’s just Heat and Rook enjoying a night in or Rook attempting to tail a suspect, the little spots of humor in the situation don’t fail. Castle also did a great job in setting up a potential plotline for Nikki Heat 4 (all those unanswered questions!).

The main weakness of Heat Rises is that the Big Bad and the Big Bad’s lackeys aren’t that well-hidden. I already had my suspicions maybe two-thirds into the book and was proven right by the reveal at the end.

The 2nd level of analysis exposes quite a few wink wink nudge nudge moments designed to appeal to fans of the TV show. First, it’s very interesting to read Castle’s book while knowing what he’s experienced prior and during the course of writing it. The depth of his feelings for Beckett come out in the guise of Rook’s feelings for Heat. Castle’s writing of the relationship between Rook and Heat is his way of letting Beckett know that they can work and not just in fiction.

And then there are the meta moments. Oh, the meta moments. This is my favorite from the entire series so far:

Phil Podemski to Jameson Rook [on setting up Rook as a male stripper]: “Sure, guess I could give you a bullwhip and a fedora. We’d market you as Indiana Bones. Or maybe go sci-fi. You sorta look like that guy who roamed outer space everybody’s so crazy about.”

Jameson Rook: “Malcolm Reynolds?”

😛

Then there’s also Richard Castle’s acknowledgements: “To Nathan, Stana, Seamus, Jon, Ruben, Molly, Susan, and Tamala – you remain the embodiment of dreams that come true relentlessly and tirelessly. You always bring the heat.” 😛

All in all, I don’t regret a single minute of the time I spent reading Heat Rises. It was a welcome respite from working on my thesis and something that kept me sane. I highly recommend it for Castle fans and non-fans alike 🙂

Rating: 4/5

Details:

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion (September 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401324436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401324438

Book review: “The Son of Neptune” by Rick Riordan (spoiler alert!)

The Son of Neptune is the second book in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, released here in the Philippines with relatively little fanfare last October 4, 2011.

Camp Jupiter finds itself reluctantly welcoming in Percy Jackson, a 16-year-old amnesiac demigod under Juno’s protection. He’s trained though, in a style that no one’s ever seen before. He meets Hazel and Frank and joins them in the Fifth Cohort AKA the “loser cohort”. They’re sent on a quest to release Thanatos, or Death. Freeing him is a must, as with him chained, no one stays dead, including the monsters that keep on coming back instead of staying dead. And guess who now controls the Doors of Death? Yep, Gaea. The three of them travel to Alaska, the land beyond the gods, to free Thanatos, retrieve the Roman eagle standard, and maybe save the world along the way.

The book is okay overall though I’m not certain I’m going to buy a physical copy anytime soon (I read the Kindle version).

RANKING: 3.5/5 (serviceable but not as good as TLH)

The good:

I liked how he described Camp Jupiter. I’m not that familiar with Roman mythology and history compared to Greek so I appreciated the background information.

The action in SON comes hard and fast, with the book taking place over only a week. Percy is the veteran this time around and it shows. Even with his memory gone, he’s every inch a leader and a warrior. Hazel and Frank are decent characters and get to do some cool things too.

I love Iris and her R.O.F.L.! It was good to see minor gods getting more attention.

The not-so-good (SPOILER WARNING!): Continue reading “Book review: “The Son of Neptune” by Rick Riordan (spoiler alert!)”

Book review: the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz

The 10th anniversary UK covers for the first eight books

Finally closing the last chapter of the nine-book “Alex Rider” series by Anthony Horowitz felt like the end of a long, breakneck, and emotionally charged ride. The first eight books were read at a rate of around one book every 4-5 days but Book 9 took much longer because I didn’t want to end Alex’ adventures just yet.

Meet Alex Rider – a 14-year-old British orphan living with his overseas banker uncle Ian Rider and American housekeeper Jack Starbright in a nice house in Chelsea. He goes to Brookland Comprehensive. He’s intelligent, charming, and popular with his classmates. He’s captain of the football team and wants to be a pro footballer when he grows up. He knows karate, speaks fluent French, German, and Spanish plus a little Italian, and likes extreme sports like scuba diving, rock climbing, rappelling, surfing, and snowboarding. He’s pretty run-of-the-mill.

His world comes crashing down soon after his 14th birthday when Ian dies in a “car accident” because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. Unsatisfied with the official story, Alex investigates his uncle’s death and finds out more than he could have imagined: his uncle was an operative for MI6 – a spy – and killed during his last mission by hardened assassin Yassen Gregorovitch. Ian’s “work trips” abroad where he came home injured? Missions. Ian and Alex’s vacations abroad (where Ian forced Alex to speak like a local), karate lessons, and extreme sports? Training for Alex. MI6 forcibly recruits Alex by threatening to deport Jack if he refuses because his unique combination of skill and youth makes him the perfect candidate to take over Ian’s unfinished business: investigating businessman Herod Sayle and his “generous” gift of a revolutionary Stormbreaker computer for every classroom in Britain. Thus begins next two years of Alex Rider’s life, where he faces off with a Portuguese man-o-war, snowboards down a mountain on an ironing board, escapes a great white shark, has tea with a mad pop star, trains in a special school for assassins, goes into outer space, stops a tsunami, blows up a dam, and experiences his greatest tragedy.

The Alex Rider canon is composed of nine books (with the first book published in 2000 and the last just this April 2011) and three short stories that take place between the novels. The in-universe timeline:

Bonus content:

Oh Alex Pettyfer, you were so much more attractive when you were 15.

The combination of good books and Alex Pettyfer (who played Alex in the 2006 Stormbreaker movie) turned me into an Alex Rider fangirl. The books may be considered standard escapist spy fare, but Anthony Horowitz somehow makes it thrilling and heartbreaking. Alex Rider is no James Bond. He never asked for any of this. He never imagined that his uncle had an ulterior motive for their foreign trips and extreme sports. His own government blackmails him into service. He never wanted to be the one to save the world. But save the world he must, because no one else can do what he can. These similarities led me to compare Alex with another British teenage savior-of-the-known-(wizarding) world, Harry Potter. Both orphans. Both had the weight of the world thrust upon their shoulders, whether they asked for it or not. Both aged by all that they had seen and experienced. Both were manipulated by adults to serve the “greater good”. But while Harry had Hermione (and sometimes Ron) by his side, Alex had no one. While Harry had the time to learn and train and recover over seven years, Alex completed seven missions in one year. And Alex’s greatest triumph – finally being free of MI6 – came at the cost of his greatest tragedy.

The Alex Rider series also has the honor of having my most disliked book villain – MI6 Director Alan Blunt. Yes, I dislike him even more than Voldemort and Ginny Weasley. His Machiavellian outlook results in the ruthless and unfeeling manipulation and abuse of Alex Rider, all done in the name of “queen and country”.

However, this doesn’t mean that the series is perfect. Far from it actually, as there are several things that detract from the reading experience.

You don’t need to start with Stormbreaker to understand the overall story arc, as Horowitz includes copious amounts of information on what happened in the preceding books. Unfortunately, the information is given using a lot of exposition. While this will help those who read the books out-of-order, it is annoying and repetitive to those who started with Stormbreaker.

Another thing is that some of the books are “throwaway books” – fillers that are of minimal relevance to the overall plot. Point Blanc, Skeleton Key, Ark Angel, and Crocodile Tears could have been culled out and their (very few) important contributions farmed out to the other novels. Scorpia, Snakehead, and Scorpia Rising are where most of the action take place. I only wish that Scorpia Rising had an epilogue, just so I could see Alex finally happy.

Yes, I teared up at the end.

The third thing that detracts from the series is the very fast-paced timeline. Again, Alex was 14 for books 1-7. While the series isn’t supposed to be realistic, it didn’t have to throw realism out the window after repeatedly stomping on it. Two or three adventures per year gives enough time for character development while keeping up the action.

The fourth would be Horowitz’ consistent use of the cliche moment where the villain conveniently explains his dastardly plot before leaving Alex in an “inescapable” trap that Alex inevitably escapes from. This ties in with the first complaint on extensive exposition – there are long stretches of telling instead of showing.

And lastly – and this is an admitted nitpick – the technology name-dropping. If you’re going to name-drop specific pieces of technology then you’d better make sure that your in-universe timeline matches. Stormbreaker was published in 2000 so Alex was given a GameBoy Color. Fast-forward to 2011 and Scorpia Rising – Alex’s arsenal now includes a DSi and an iPhone and he rejects a suspicious character’s invitation to become Facebook friends. No problem there, except that only two years have passed in AR-verse.

Rating:

The series as a whole: 4/5

Stormbreaker – 3.5/5

Point Blanc – 2/5

Skeleton Key – 2.5/5

Eagle Strike – 3.75/5 (was going to get 3.5 but the ending with Yassen gave it an edge)

Scorpia – 4/5

Ark Angel – 2.5/5 (supposed to get 2 but this book introduces Tamara Knight and I like her so it gets an extra 0.5)

Snakehead – 4/5

Crocodile Tears – 3 (Tom Harris!)

Scorpia Rising – 4.5/5

And a little bonus – deleted scenes from the Stormbreaker movie 😀  Too bad it didn’t do as well as they expected. In my opinion, Horowitz made a mistake (he wrote the script) when he made it “kiddie”. Alex Rider has his share of grittiness that was nowhere to be found in the film. Ian not hearing the helicopter because the radio was too loud. The secret entrance to MI6 HQ is in a photo booth. I hated Missi Pyle’s awful accent. Sabina was bland(er). The only ones who made the movie worth watching were Alex Pettyfer, Alicia Silverstone (she was spot-on as Jack, even though she was blonde), and Ewan McGregor as Ian (because Ewan McGregor is always awesome).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DY0NGKn2fyY&feature=related]

Book review: “The Warlock” by Michael Scott

Photobucket“The Warlock” is the 5th book in Michael Scott‘s bestselling series “The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel“. The Amazon product description reads:

“In the fifth installment of this bestselling series, the twins of prophesy have been divided, and the end is finally beginning.

With Scatty, Joan of Arc, Saint Germain, Palamedes, and Shakespeare all in Danu Talis, Sophie is on her own with the ever-weakening Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel. She must depend on Niten to help her find an immortal to teach her Earth Magic. The surprise is that she will find her teacher in the most ordinary of places. “

I read the last book (“The Necromancer”) at the start of the year so I started off sketchy on the details of what happened but Mr. Scott includes a lot of “Previously, on the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” backstory through the opening diary entry and lots of exposition throughout the story. Unfortunately, the exposition is both a boon and a bane as while useful, I found myself bored whenever the information was repeated.

There are quite a few twists in this book, especially where the Newmans are concerned. As to whether the twists are good or just annoying is up in the air – I’ll decide once “The Enchantress” comes out but right now, they’re bordering on annoying.

The book is fast-paced as always, necessary because the in-universe time span between “The Alchemyst” and this one is only one week. While this makes for rapid page-turning, character development suffers as a result. I love Josh so I still find it hard to believe that Josh turned into a wussy, easily brainwashed asshole in the span of what, four to five days? Exposure to Clarent and Virginia Dare are not good enough reasons. At this point, the characters that redeem the book are Scatty, Niten, and Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s shaping up to be my favorite character in the series because of the growth he experiences.

What cannot be faulted is Mr. Scott’s mythology-building. While he didn’t create any of the mythological creatures or immortal personalities, he has this way of weaving them into his narrative that makes their presence work. We get the information needed to understand who they are and their motivations but there are no cheap *hint hint wink wink* in-jokes.

Overall, I’m giving “The Warlock” 3/5 stars. A good page-turner with excellent mythology-building but ultimately somewhat thin and lacking. Hopefully “The Enchantress” will serve as a good closer for the series.

Book Review: “Smart Women Finish Rich” by David Bach

One of my favorite books of all time is “Smart Women Finish Rich” by David Bach. The book that started Mr. Bach’s “Finish Rich” series, “Smart Women Finish Rich” is a guide to personal finance written especially for women. Consider these facts:

1. In general, women live longer than men.

2. Women are more likely to take breaks in their careers in order to care for family members, be they children or elderly parents.

3. Women still make less money than their male counterparts.

Taking all these things into account, women have to take more steps in order to secure their financial future. This is where “Smart Women” comes in.

Prior to reading this book, I thought that I already had a pretty good grasp of my finances. I got my first job, took home my first paycheck, started saving everything I could. I got my first credit card. It was only upon reading “Smart Women” that it finally sank in that the things I did NOT know about money far outweighed the things that I did know. I knew inflation was a bad thing but didn’t know just how badly it could affect money lying stagnant in a savings account. I knew how the stock market worked but not how to go about making money in it. I didn’t know what a mutual fund was. I didn’t realize just how important having health insurance was. Through reading “Smart Women”, I found out all of these and much more. Most importantly, I found out how to make my money work for me.

“Smart Women” is geared towards personal finance newbies, with worksheets to accomplish and easy-to-understand text largely free of jargon. Because it is an introductory text, “Smart Women” doesn’t contain any “earth-shattering” revelations for someone who’s already well-versed in financial planning. Mr. Bach also makes frequent references to United States law, especially when discussing taxes, retirement accounts, and company benefits, but that doesn’t mean that you should skip those sections entirely. In fact, you should read those sections to find out how the US government is helping their citizens save money and prepare for retirement. Makes you wish that the Philippines had similar legislation.

The first thing I did after reading the book was analyze my financial situation and plans for the future. The second thing I did was to consult with a (well-off) friend in the finance sector and pick his brain regarding suitable places to invest in. The third thing I did was to put money away in a mutual fund. Prior to reading “Smart Women Finish Rich”, the future had always seemed to be something off in the distance that wouldn’t arrive for many, many years. The future is still a long way away, but that just means that I best start preparing for it now.

Book Review: “Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox” by Eoin Colfer

The Harry Potter series was both a boon and a bane to children’s books: a boon because it got children reading again, and a bane because Harry Potter overshadowed everything else that came after it. Unfortunately, one of those casualties was the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. While not as heavy (literally) as the Potter books, Artemis Fowl and his cohorts deserve that shelf space by virtue of being fun, fast-paced, action-packed, intelligent, and yes, magical reads.

The planned cover for Artemis Fowl: The Time P...
Image via Wikipedia

Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox is the 6th book of the series. In this one, Artemis has grown up, mellowed out, and is walking the straight and narrow. Everything is fine until his mother acquires Spelltropy, a degenerative fairy disease whose only cure resides in the brain fluid of the silky sifaka lemur. Unfortunately, the lemur has been extinct for five years because of Artemis himself. To save his mother, Artemis and Holly must travel to the past and save it. In doing so, Artemis faces his deadliest opponent yet: his younger self.

Long story short: I loved this book. It’s typical Artemis Fowl: a crackling adventure with well-crafted characters and unexpected twists that though unexpected, resolve themselves in a logical manner. Artemis has indeed come a long way since his first encounter with the fairies, but his ruthless nature resurfaces in a crucial moment and he must deal with the consequences. What I liked best however, was how deftly Colfer handled time travel. Done sloppily, time travel results in a more convoluted story filled with inconsistencies and more questions than answers (yes Heroes, I’m looking at you). Colfer handled the time paradox brilliantly by choosing one time travel theory (guess which one) and thinking it through. Because of that, he carried to the story to a logical conclusion that ties in with the events in the book.

Each Artemis Fowl novel is designed to stand alone, so new readers can pick up and understand “The Time Paradox” without having read the first five books. Nonetheless, reading Books 1-5 is still highly recommended because Book 6 references previous events and you get to see firsthand Artemis’ transformation from criminal mastermind to the person he is now.